State Politics


EAST MANATEE — Mass transit along State Road 70 ends in the vicinity of the Wal-mart SuperCenter just east of U.S. 301.

County Commissioner Donna Hayes told her District 5 advisory committee Friday that she remains committed to extending bus service to Lakewood Ranch.

She cited the growing number of students, faculty and staff at four college campuses, and at Manatee Technical Institute’s east campus; and 12,000 workers in the community, many of whom commute to Lakewood Ranch.

A number of hurdles would need to be cleared to make mass transit at the Ranch a reality, including finding the money to pay for it. Also, because Lakewood Ranch straddles the Manatee-Sarasota county line, there would need to be coordination between two mass transit systems.

Hayes said she has heard of students who attend Keiser University being dropped off at the SuperTarget off University Parkway and then having to hoof it several miles past the busy Interstate 75 interchange to get to class.

Dr. Craig Trigueiro, one of those who attended the advisory committee, said if bus service were to be extended to the Ranch, the buses should be the “right size.”

He suggested vans, rather than 40-passenger buses be used. Even on some established routes, it’s not unusual to see buses operating with only a few passengers.

Hayes responded that with the bad economy, ridership is up 20 percent and some buses are packed.

Kathy Walker, spokeswoman for State College of Florida, said that quite a few students already take the bus to class at the Bradenton and Venice campuses.

With the Lakewood Ranch campus doubling in size, she said she would anticipate that more students might be interested in bus service.

In other business:

n Hayes said she continues to support plans to build a bridge across the Braden River, connecting Tara Boulevard and Honore, probably in 2015 or later.

She said efforts are underway to acquire 3.86 acres of land on the south side of the river owned by John Neal and Charles Varah needed for the bridge.

In June, the county commission approved a quick-take resolution to acquire the property. A part of that process was to determine a fair value for the land.

“It’s not a done deal, but it’s close,” Hayes said.

Proponents of the bridge have said it would add a much needed north-south route for area residents, ambulances and fire trucks, saving driving time and helping keep local traffic off I-75.

n Melissa Wandall, who has championed cameras at dangerous intersections to deter red light runners, said she plans to return to Tallahassee during the next legislative session to press for passage of a state bill.

“In due time, I think this bill will pass,” she said, noting that the city of Bradenton recently installed a red light camera at First Street and Manatee Avenue West, a first for Manatee County.

Her husband, Mark, was killed in an accident Oct. 24. 2003, when another driver ran a red light at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70. At the time, Melissa Wandall was nine months pregnant with the couple’s only child, Madison.

While that tragedy remains painful, Wandall said she is committed to ensuring that her late husband’s death not be just another accident statistic, but that good can come from it to save other lives.

She noted that National Stop on Red Week is Aug. 2 - 8. In observance of the week, she has posted a sign at the intersection where she lost her husband: “In memory of Mark Wandall (Madison’s Daddy) Please stop running red lights.”

n John Barnott, Manatee County building director, discussed reorganization of his department, where staffing has been reduced from 83 to 39 and good customer service made a top priority.

Several in the audience said there has been a positive improvement in staff friendliness, responsiveness and efficiency.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.