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Water taxi lacks traction

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

While the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization includes a water-taxi operation in area coastal waters as a long-range goal, there’s been “no movement” on the idea since an initial study was completed in 2005.
“The water taxi idea doesn’t have much traction right now,” said MPO director Mike Howe.
The preliminary study of a water taxi along the coastal waters of Sarasota and Manatee counties and up the Braden River identified the tourism potential, but recommended an in-depth study and analysis. Since then, no local jurisdiction has stepped forward to apply for a federal ferryboat grant or provide any funding for a further analysis, Howe said.
“The MPO doesn’t have any funding to move forward with an in-depth analysis. All of our allocation money (state and federal) is going toward roads” and related improvements, he said.
A federal grant for a study and possibly some infrastructure funding might be available from the federal ferryboat grant fund, but it’s not the MPO’s role to apply.
“That would have to come from a local jurisdiction, be it Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Manatee County or a combination,” Howe said.
“There’s been no interest among our members to get together, move the idea forward and apply for a grant,” he added.
“The biggest problem facing a water taxi is the operational startup costs. The grant would not cover all of that, and the jurisdictions backing the taxi would eventually have to provide some funding to get the taxi operational.”
The in-depth study would, however, provide startup cost estimates, Howe said.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that budgets are so tight there’s little interest on the commission in applying for a grant for a water-taxi study that might go nowhere for lack of additional funds.
“There are so many other issues ahead of a water taxi,” she said. “It’s just one of those things that will have to wait.”

MPO 5-year plan
Howe noted that the MPO’s five-year plan from July 2010 to June 2015 has $5.8 million to rehabilitate the Cortez Bridge. The two-year project would begin in 2012 with initial surveys and minor repairs, then begin in earnest in 2013. The project would be completed in 2014, according to the plan.
Other MPO projects for Anna Maria Island and nearby areas in the five-year plan include $315,350 for a bike path and nature trail at Neal Preserve on Perico Island, $1 million to refurbish State Road 64 (Manatee Avenue) on the Palma Sola Causeway portion, $600,000 for landscaping of State Road 789 (Gulf Drive), and $4,500 for maintenance of the traffic signal at the Manatee Avenue-East Bay Drive intersection, Holmes Beach.

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