EAST COUNTY — While proposed improvements to the interchange at University Parkway and Interstate 75 may resolve traffic woes there, local officials also have looked for alternative solutions, such as public transportation.
Bus service, they say, would bring immediate dividends.
The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners approved March 5 the implementation of a new bus route along University Parkway that will run from Lakewood Ranch to the Sarasota-International Airport and serve college students, spectators bound for Nathan Benderson Park and future patrons of the Mall at University Town Center.
“It’s a route to serve businesses along University and colleges across Lakewood Ranch that will create economic development and relief to I-75 and University Parkway,” said Glama Carter, the director of Sarasota County Area Transit.
SCAT will use a $529,021 federal grant to fund Route 30, which will begin in July, but the stimulus requires a local match.
To stay operating neutral, SCAT will cut other services, none of which affect East County.
SCAT estimates running the new route will cost $714,369 annually. The expense will be covered for a year and a half under the federal grant and county match. When those funds are used up, SCAT will have to find alternative ways to fund the service.
The University Parkway route would run every hour from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
SCAT officials seek assistance from Manatee County Area Transit to reduce costs. Carter says that if the two agencies collaborate on the route, funding would last three years, instead of a year and a half.
The two agencies already co-operate Route 99, which travels north and south on U.S. 41, servicing passengers from Palmetto to downtown Sarasota. MCAT and SCAT have two buses each serving that route.
“We would make the collaboration seamless,” Carter said.
For its part, Manatee County officials say Sarasota County has not contacted them about sharing the route.
“I have had no contact with them about this route, nor has my staff,” said Ron Schulhofer, Manatee County’s director of public works. “But that (collaborating on Route 30) would be great. We already have a great working relationship.”
If the two counties share the two-bus route, each agency would provide one bus.
Carter says one bus costs $357,000 per year to operate.
“So instead of funding two buses, we would do one, which would save us money,” Carter said.
The addition of Route 30 is not related to a study commissioned by the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization to provide bus service to Lakewood Ranch.
The MPO hired Tindale-Oliver & Associates this summer to complete that study, which came after Manatee County earned a service development grant from the Florida Department of Transportation in February 2011 — money dedicated to expand transit in Lakewood Ranch.
Mike Howe, director of the MPO, said Tindale-Oliver will present its preferred Lakewood Ranch route to its board in April.
The state funding becomes available in fiscal year 2015-16, so implementation of that route would not begin until then.
A. Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
B. Lockwood Ridge Road and University Parkway
C. A SCAT transfer station (to be constructed in July) at North Cattleman Road by the Mall at UTC
D. Keiser University/Everglades University
E. State College of Florida Lakewood Ranch
F. Lakewood Ranch Medical Center
MCAT proposes expanded route along S.R. 70
Manatee County Area Transit proposes extending bus service on State Road 70 in an attempt to serve the new Walmart and Manatee Technical Institute’s East County campus.
Currently, MCAT service on State Road 70 ends at the Walmart at U.S. 301.
MCAT plans to extend its Route 6 in Fiscal Year 2015.
Extending Route 6 from Cortez Road east would cost $668,360.
MCAT has applied for state funding.
To help pay for that expanded service, along with other future improvements, MCAT has proposed bus fare increases, as well.
Cash fares would increase from $1.25 to $1.50. A day pass would increase from $3 to $4 and monthly passes would increase from $30 to $40.
The cost of weekly passes would drop from $15 to $12, and a 25 cent transfer fee would be eliminated.
The county will host public workshops in April about the proposed changes.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].