EAST COUNTY — Legislators have scrapped $100 million in funding for transportation projects from the state’s budget — a move that may make expediting improvements to the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway more difficult.
At a conference committee meeting Tuesday, the Senate’s appropriations committee rejected language to redirect $100 million in general revenue to a transportation trust fund, Florida District 73 Rep. Greg Steube said.
“The budget isn’t done,” said Steube, who worked to unite officials from Sarasota and Manatee counties about traffic woes at University Parkway and Interstate 75 and coordinated a meeting between them and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad. “We’ll know (April 29) when (the budget lands) on my desk. There’s still a chance it could be put back in.”
Prasad had planned to put $60 million of the $100 million toward constructing a double diverging diamond at the interchange of Interstate 75 and University Parkway.
By the end of March, FDOT engineers had completed 45% of the design for the project.
“This was something that was truly necessary and needed in east Manatee,” Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “For us to be in this situation with the mall getting ready to open and the world rowing championships coming and FDOT willing to take care (of this project) for us — for this to not be in their budget is just unthinkable.”
Steube said the Legislature does not have line items for specific transportation improvement projects; instead, it has a list of improvements FDOT plans to construct, with a total amount budgeted.
He said he has spoken with Prasad and is confident the secretary plans to work to find funding elsewhere for the interchange, if the $100 million is not accepted into the budget. Other transportation projects have come in under budget, which may provide an alternative funding source.
“(Prasad) is going to work hard to find money for this project,” Steube said. “I still think this is something that likely will be done.”
Sarasota and Manatee county officials traveled to Tallahassee March 6 to meet with Prasad about their concerns with the I-75/University interchange and pushed for the state to expedite improvements.
At that time, Prasad vowed to fast track funding and fast track the design and construction of the proposed interchange, if local officials supported improvements to the surrounding road network.
FDOT did not have any money earmarked for the project until 2021, but promised to try to find about $60 million to expedite the project.
FDOT District 1 spokesman Billy Hattaway said last month that FDOT expected to award the contract for the project in May, at which time contractors could begin mobilizing for construction.
He did not immediately return requests for comment.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected]