Six proposed Anna Maria Island traffic projects start jostling this week to see if they can land a spot on the Florida Department of Transportation’s next five-year work program.
The yearly process is competitive, with the DOT receiving dozens of proposals from Manatee and Sarasota counties but choosing only 10-12.
“They don’t have enough funding to fund anywhere near all of the (proposals),” said David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Sometimes, they only fund progress on previously prioritized projects, so not much is guaranteed.”
The proposed projects are initially submitted by local governments in the two counties to the MPO, which analyzes and ranks them and then passes those recommendations to the DOT.
The application deadline to submit projects to the MPO was Dec. 5.
MPO analysis starts this week.
Determining factors include whether a project already has funding and what Hutchinson described as “constructability.”
MPO staff will submit the ranked list to the organization’s board Jan. 27.
The MPO board then will submit its ranked list of recommendations to the DOT March 15. That list will be for projects added to the fifth year of the DOT’s five-year plan for the fiscal 2022-26 work program. The fiscal year in Florida starts July 1.
The DOT will announce its selections in the fall.
The top two projects submitted by the Island Transportation Planning Organization are almost certainly guaranteed high ranking on the MPO’s list and a slot on the DOT’s next work plan because they are already funded for fiscal 2021-25.
Those projects — bridges to replace the Anna Maria Island and Cortez spans — have been on the DOT work program for years. Environmental studies have been completed for both spans, and design work has begun.
“They’re already on the list,” Hutchinson told The Islander Dec. 6. “They’ll stay on that list. The DOT is looking to fund those soon because, for example, the Cortez Bridge will be in need of replacement in 10 to 15 years.”
Two other proposed AMI projects — both in Bradenton Beach — also were on the 2021-25 DOT work program and likely will advance to the next round.
They are drainage improvements from Ninth Street North to Avenue C and a study to complete street improvements from the Longboat Pass Bridge to the northern city limits.
Whether the remaining two projects — both in Holmes Beach — make the cut won’t be known until the DOT releases the 2022-26 funding list late next year.
Those projects are an extension of the right turn lane from East Bay Drive onto Manatee Avenue and a study for multimodal capacity from 27th Street North to the Palm Drive-Gulf Drive intersection.
The DOT five-year budget for Manatee and Sarasota counties is usually about $700 million to $1 billion, which is about $140 million to $200 million a year, Hutchinson said.
The ebb and flow of the budget depends on such variables as gas tax revenues and federal and state funding levels.
Federal funding accounts for 25% of the state program, Hutchinson said.
The DOT funds several aspects of a work project, including environmental studies, design, right-of-way acquisition and construction. Placement on the agency’s work program can be for any of those categories.
The agency’s 2021-25 program lists an allocation of $1.251 million in 2024-25 for a project development and environment study for Bradenton Beach street improvements. The city resubmitted that request for fiscal 2022-26.
The DOT has allocated $117,000 for drainage improvements in Bradenton Beach in fiscal 2020-21. The city also resubmitted that request.
The 2021-25 DOT work program also has allocations to repair and later replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge and to build a new Cortez Bridge.
“They are in the production pipeline,” Hutchinson said.
For repair of the AMI Bridge, DOT has budgeted $146,000 for fiscal 2022-23 to conduct environmental studies and preliminary engineering and $897,501 for repair work in 2023-24.
For replacement of the bridge, the DOT has budgeted $100,000 for preliminary engineering for 2020-21 as well as environmental study allocations of $25,000 in 2021-22 and $425,000 in 2022-23.
That’s in addition to a $6.2 million design plan that has begun but will not be completed until fiscal 2022-23, according to DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick.
No construction funding has been allocated.
For the Cortez Bridge, the DOT has allocated nearly $8 million for right-of-way acquisition in fiscal 2021-25: more than $3.8 million for 2020-21, another $1 million for fiscal 2023-24 and more than $3.1 million for 2024-25.
Design work on the new bridge started this year under a $6.4 million contract with the H.W. Lochner engineering firm, Rick told The Islander in October.
Construction funding for the Cortez Bridge has not been allocated either.
Both 17-foot-clearance drawbridges are scheduled to be replaced by 65-foot-clearance fixed spans.
Construction of a Cortez megabridge has drawn strong opposition from many Cortez residents and the governments of the three AMI cities. Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore also is a strong opponent.
They contend the high bridge would destroy the character of the Cortez fishing village, which was designated a U.S. historic district in 1995.
The DOT completed a $675,000 traffic study in September that looked at possible solutions for traffic woes on AMI and Longboat Key. Many of those suggested solutions looked at ways to minimize traffic on the islands, though, and for the most part were not included on the ITPO projects list.
Replacement of the 62-year-old Cortez and Anna Maria bridges was ranked eighth on the DOT’s Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study.
Among the top five recommendations were developing message boards for bridge openings, establishing rideshare pick-up and drop-off locations and restricting personal vehicle use to create car-free zones on the islands.
The DOT started the study early in 2017 at the request of the MPO.
The study consisted of three parts. Phase 1 examined prior studies, and Phase 2 listed potential improvements and recommendations.
The third phase ranked mid- and long-term projects and identified possible project funding.