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Date of Issue: May 28, 2008

Trolley highlighted at bay-area meeting at Center

Thank you
Manatee County Commissioner Amy Stein, left, acknowledges developers Nathan Benderson and Pat Neal for their respective $2,500 donations to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority at a meeting of the board last week at the Anna Maria Island Community Center. Islander Photo: Paul Roat

Jaws figuratively dropped last week when ridership numbers for the Manatee Trolley on Anna Maria Island were presented at a top-level bay-area transportation meeting.

Manatee County Area Transit manager Ralf Heseler told a regional transportation board that more than 4,000 people were on the big green buses April 1. The trolley runs from the north to south ends of the Island from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. every day of the year and is free for riders.

In bringing the group to Anna Maria Island Manatee County’s representative to the board, county commissioner Amy Stein, touted the success of the Island trolley.

The event was a “field trip” for members of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. The authority encompasses Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties. It’s goal is to develop regional transportation solutions.

TBARTA was established by the Florida Legislature in part by state Rep. Bill Galvano, whose district encompasses the Island. Unfortunately, the Legislature struck any funding for the initiative, prompting the authority to seek private funds to provide planning and other funding needs.

Manatee County officials presented the authority with highlights and challenges to its transportation needs.

County planner Michael Wood summed the matter up in one short sentence: “Our biggest challenge is transportation.”

County Commissioner Joe McClash said one of the biggest issues facing Manatee County — and perhaps TBARTA —is the Heartland Coast-To-Coast Corridor plan. The proposal includes creating a new road from Port Manatee to the Florida’s east coast. The hope is to alleviate traffic on Interstate 4.

“I believe it is one of the most important corridors we can create,” McClash said. He added that many of the property owners had indicated a willingness to contribute land to aid construction of the corridor.

Although the trolley on the Island is a flagship for mass transit in Manatee County, another key element of the system is in the express bus route from Palmetto to downtown Bradenton to downtown Sarasota.

Heseler said that it was a pretty much “standing-room-only” route in the morning and evening hours, prompting some preliminary discussions in bringing in double-decker buses for that route.

“It hurts to drive a car these days,” he said. “We need to provide something to people.”

Heseler lauded TBARTA as well.

“TBARTA can be our big brother,” he said. “You can provide us a stronger voice in Tallahassee and Washington.”