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East County Thursday, May 19, 2022 1 month ago

Manatee seeks federal funding for second span of Fort Hamer Bridge

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Funding for the east Bradenton bridge, among other initiatives, prompted a trip to Washington, D.C. by the Manatee County commissioners.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Manatee County commissioners visited Washington, D.C. with the hope of obtaining federal funding for the future construction of a second span at the Fort Hamer Bridge.

According to Commissioner Carol Whitmore, some of the individuals with whom the commission will be meeting are Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Rep. Vern Buchanan and federal transportation officials.

“It’s very expensive, but we need it desperately," Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said of the project.

Commissioner James Satcher said a new span would benefit not only transportation on Fort Hamer Road but also transportation in the entire region.

“Right now, one stalled car on I-75, and everyone's got an extra hour's commute," Satcher said. "We can make a difference if more people could take local roads and stay off the interstate.”

The proposed bridge would add an extra two travel lanes beside the current Fort Hamer Bridge and is being pursued in conjunction with another project to widen Fort Hamer Road from the Manatee River to U.S. 301.

The county plans to apply for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Federal Grant Application for the 2023 fiscal year. The funds requested are $39.02 million, and Manatee County is required to offer a match of $19.51 million.

If approved, federal funds would be delivered via grants over the next five years. The county also intends to submit a project application for the bridge each year.

Grants are selected through the Federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which uses a rigorous selection process that considers impacts to the movement of goods and services, highway capacity, hurricane evacuation routes, and relief to the interstate highway system from state and local roads.

According to information released by the county, both projects are expected to score well due to their regional significance.

Baugh said commissioners would be dining with the transportation committee, which would provide an opportunity to present their concerns. She called the bridge a “huge ask,” but said she was hopeful the appeal would be successful based on the demonstrable need she said existed.

Satcher said the undertaking was worthwhile despite its expense. He said that his involvement in pushing for funding has been driven by his experiences “sitting in the line, trying to go south.”

“When it's rush hour, and there's nothing holding anyone up, there's just so much volume that you're backed up 10 to 20 minutes. It’s just not a good situation,” he said. “I think with a lot of people in the county, it needs to happen. I have made it a big part of what we're doing, to get the project moving forward. The bridge was too small when it was completed.”

He hopes the outcome of the trip to Washington, D.C., will be positive. 

Whitmore said that the purpose of the Washington trip is to start of a process that will “get it on everybody’s radar.”

She said that federal funding was attempted in the past, but that it was unsuccessful because of the fast track on which the previous board pushed the project, thus shifting responsibility for funding to the county.

She also said progress was stalled previously by a lawsuit from the homeowner’s association of Waterlefe, which opposed the project. Whitmore said that today, she has seen support from her entire constituency for the bridge.

“We’ve already more or less designed the old bridge, so we know where the second bridge can go,” she said.

Commissioner George Kruse said the bridge will open an important evacuation route.

In addition to an additional bridge span, other major items on the commissioners' Washington D.C. agenda includes funding for veterans’ and affordable housing initiatives, infrastructure enhancements for public and pedestrian safety, and the “Manatee Protection Act,” an initiative of representatives Vern Buchanan and Darren Soto which would upgrade the status of the West Indian Manatee from threatened to endangered.

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