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East County Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019 7 months ago

Manatee County takes road project detour on 44th Avenue extension

A Lena Road extension could emerge from 44th Avenue construction delays, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh hopes.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh is hopeful delays in constructing the final segment of 44th Avenue East — from 44th Avenue Plaza East to Highland Links Street — could create more opportunities for roadway connections in the greater Lakewood Ranch area.

“My thought is we need to start working diligently on Lena Road,” Baugh said. “Before, the problem was it wasn’t on  the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), but we also didn’t know how to align it. This opens it up. We should be able to move it up. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Manatee County officials are working to finalize their CIP, a five-year work program for parks, transportation and other funding needs, before adopting their fiscal year 2020 budget Sept. 17. Connecting Lena Road from its two end points between state roads 70 and 64 is not in that plan. Baugh has been advocating for moving the project up.

Manatee County is set to begin construction on the 44th Avenue East segment across the Braden River, from 45th Street East to 44th Avenue Plaza East, in fourth quarter 2019. The final segment across I-75 was slated to

follow in fiscal year 2021.

However, that project is being delayed to fiscal year 2024 because of issues related to right of way. County spokesman Nicholas Azzara said the project team needs to identify stormwater pond sites and land needed for those ponds, as well as land for the future connection of Lena Road to 44th Avenue. Environmental permitting must be reviewed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Manatee County must coordinate with the Florida Department of Transportation about building across I-75.

Manatee County Financial Director Jan Brewer said the timing delay changes how Manatee County plans to pay for the 2020 project.

Instead of borrowing all $50.2 million as previously planned, the county now intends to use a $10 million state grant and $20.2 million in impact fees, money collected on new construction to offset impacts of growth. It would finance the remaining $20 million, combining it with an existing $36 million debit for earlier portions of the 44th Avenue East project.

Brewer said using $20 million in impact fees would save the county an estimated $15 million in interest over the life of a 30-year bond and provide all the money needed for the segment upfront.

She said the county now plans to save for the final $20 million segment across I-75 with impact fees, although that strategy could change.

“As long as growth stays the way it is, there’s definitely opportunity,” Brewer said.

Brewer said collection of impact fees in the southeast district, which roughy spans east of U.S. 301 and south of the Manatee River, varies drastically from year to year. For example, the county collected $3.5 million in 2015, but $13.8 million in 2018.

She said if there are a few “banner years” with high impact fee collection, there could be transportation impact fees available for other East County road projects, such as Lena Road. When the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, she anticipates the county will have $28.5 million in transportation impact fees available to be used for 44th Avenue and other transportation projects in the county’s CIP.

Other changes to the proposed Capital Improvement Plan since it was first presented in June include the delay of reconstruction of Upper Manatee River Road from just south of Fort Hamer Bridge to Rye Road. There had been $3.15 million allocated for it in fiscal year 2020 and another $17.85 million combined in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, but the project has been removed from the five-year work program altogether. The project is now considered a “project of record.”

Brewer said that change was among others meant to better prioritize commissioners’ spending priorities and level out spending from the county’s infrastructure sales tax.

“We actually were starting more projects than funds we had coming in,” Brewer said. “We tried to level out the flow of the funds.”

Brewer and county staff also have recommended other plan changes on projects, including postponement of a $500,000 master plan at Tom Bennett Park, and $6.7 million in impact fees toward improvements at county-owned land north of Premier Sports Campus.

In general, projects scheduled for the first year of the new CIP, fiscal year 2020, will be completed. Projects for the following years may be changed at any time, but provide a strategy for moving projects forward.

“The CIP is approved annually and is a ‘slice in time,’” Deputy County Administrator John Osborne said. “We amend the CIP as necessary throughout the year and make additions (and) subtractions as funding and direction of the board of county commissioners allow.”

Osborne said the county analyzes funding, impact fees and operational revenue actuals and projections continuously.

“The CIP process is very fluid and is not set in stone,” he said.

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