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Commissioners prioritize infrastructure, trail system for federal funds

Building a new span across the Manatee River at Fort Hamer is the county's top priority.

A new bridge will be constructed alongside the current overpass at Fort Hamer Road.
A new bridge will be constructed alongside the current overpass at Fort Hamer Road.
File photo
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As Manatee County commissioners set their federal funding priorities during a March 8 special meeting and workshop, their focus was infrastructure and bringing the county’s trail system to fruition.

Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said that while prioritization of the projects would not normally have been requested of the commission until April, a message from the appropriations chair, Texas Rep. Kay Granger, said such project reports would be due March 13.

The commission created a list of its top three projects which included — in order of highest to lowest priority — building an additional bridge at Fort Hamer, flood mitigation in the Pearce Drain watershed and building the county’s trail system, which the commission split into two distinct segments for which they would seek funding.

Hunsicker said commissioners’ priorities will be relayed to the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Vern Buchanan. He said federal funding for each of the projects is capped at $3 million, with a limit of 15 projects for the county.

Hunsicker also said Congress has reintroduced “for lack of a better term” earmarks for some agencies, with fairly strict limitations on what projects would be eligible.


Fort Hamer Bridge

Commissioners agreed that an additional overpass across the Manatee River, at Fort Hamer Road, should take priority.

Commissioners have said the overpass, which they have discussed since trips to Washington, D.C. in 2022, will be important for reducing traffic congestion in Manatee County and for providing additional access to either side of the river.

Scott May, an engineer with Manatee County, said the county has appropriated $950,000 for the design and permitting of the structure, which will include funds secured from Buchanan, although no funds have yet been appropriated for construction.

Public Works Director Chad Butzow said the process for developing the project is intended to wrap up roughly a year from now so that the county can apply for that year’s version of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant for the road and the second bridge, through two separate applications.

Pearce Drain Watershed Flood Mitigation

The second project chosen by commissioners was a project involving mitigating flooding issues in the Pearce Drain Watershed Flood Mitigation.

May said the project would take place across from the Center Lake community, located near the intersection of Whitfield Avenue and 36th Street East in Bradenton, and would utilize a property purchased by the county.

It intended to mitigate flooding created by the Pearce Drain, one of the main drains serving the area, by creating additional stormwater retention. He said studies of the watershed of the Pearce and Bowles Creek drains said both basins need a large amount of compensatory water storage.

District 4 Commissioner Mike Rahn suggested that the commission rank this project among its priorities.

“This is imperative to get done,” Rahn said. “We have folks in District 4, especially in this area, who are on the verge of losing their flood insurance because of the repetitive flooding that goes on.”

Van Ostenbridge said FEMA would be purchasing six buildings in the Shadybrook Village Condominiums due to flooding issues.


Recreational trail system

At-large Commissioner George Kruse highlighted a countywide recreational trail system currently in progress, stating the county should ask for more funds for the trails after declining to include them in its state priorities.

“There are multiple smaller dollar amounts here, yet we’ve still crammed this one towards the bottom, after pulling it off the state priority list and not allowing an appropriation request to be made for it,” he said, reviewing the initial list of federal priorities.

He said he felt the trails would stand out among the other items on the list.

“I think it’s unique, I think there’s money available for it, I think we should go for bigger dollars and really get a shovel in the ground on that trail system, especially if we’re discounting and ignoring it on the state level.”

He said it was his understanding that money for trails and multimodal transportation was derived from a different “bucket” than for the other projects.

Hunsicker said he was reluctant to assign a cost to the trail but said Sarasota County voters approved $68 million for their Legacy Trail. He said tens of millions of dollars was an easy estimate to land on for Manatee County.

Hunsicker said the American Rescue Plan has already $1.2 million toward construction of the trails, with additional funds going toward design and planning. He said additionally, roughly $2.5 million in park impact fees would go toward construction.

He also said an east-west line of the trails, specifically a segment along a railroad track in the Parrish area, was enrolled in a state program and thus eligible for grants from the state, along with the north-south connection, which would serve a regional benefit. Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge said the county only had $1.7 million appropriated to trails.

“We don’t really have any skin in the game,” he said.

Kruse said there was already a public-private partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to build large sections of the trail through East County. He also said Neal Communities had stepped forward to make a commitment to the trail.

Following a suggestion by Van Ostenbridge to split the project into two parts, Kruse asked whether the county should request funding for the north-south area from Bourneside and State Road 64, where Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s segment would end, to Rye Preserve.

Kruse said the county should focus on ensuring the trail will connect from Rye Preserve (pictured) to Sarasota County.
File photo

Kruse said this segment could be viewed as a public-private partnership with Gulf Coast Trails, SMR, and Sarasota County to create a regional trail system. Trail users would be able to visit a trail head, with facilities, currently located at Rye Preserve, and bike from there to Sarasota or Venice.

He said the additional piece of the project could involve an education corridor from Parrish to Palmetto involving Parrish Community High School and the future State College of Florida campus in Parrish.

Van Ostenbridge and Ballard said they agreed with the idea, while Hunsicker called it an “excellent idea.”

“I thought it was fantastic; it should be done,” District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said of Kruse’s comments.


44th Avenue East

The commission also discussed additional federal funding priorities not included in the top three.

Commissioners noted that $2.5 million is also being considered for a traffic light at the corner of 44th Avenue East and Wood Fern Trail.

Butzow said the project is important because it is adjacent to Dr. Mona Jain Middle School as well as B.D. Gullett Elementary School, and fit the price limit by being under $3 million.

“It has the idea of the growth and safety for the school. It seemed to check a lot of boxes, and it was in the right price amount,” Butzow said.

Van Ostenbridge asked whether the county should show that it has “skin in the game” by explaining to the committees that the county has already spent around $100 million, with the intention to relieve two existing state roads, despite requesting an amount of $3 million.

Hunsicker said that Buchanan could incorporate these points into his arguments.


Projects outside East County

May said despite this road being a rural road with low traffic volume, the county was looking at widening the Duette Road bridge in Parrish and removing it from the floodplain so that certain rain events would no longer flood the roadway.

He said the mining company Mosaic, which is working with the county on construction, would consider paying an additional price to keep the bridge open throughout the project.

Butzow said this project was included as it is considered a maintenance project due to being a standard bridge replacement, meaning it cannot be funded through impact fees.

The county will also seek federal funding for the replacement of a water main on the DeSoto Bridge in Bradenton, which has to be replaced due to a project to replace the bridge.

The county will also consider funding for Moccasin Wallow Road in Parrish, which Satcher included among his top three priorities, in contrast to other commissioners.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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