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Manatee, Sarasota Commissioners Discuss Proposed Major Changes to Public Transit at Joint Meeting


In a joint meeting on Tuesday, commissioners of Sarasota and Manatee counties discussed the possibility of consolidating their transit systems into one as well as a rapid transit project for buses.

Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker advised that the idea of merging the two counties’ transit systems, SCAT and MCAT, “may appear to be complicated, but not as complicated as one might think.” He said that entering into a private party contract with both transit systems is worth exploring.

Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac, noting that much public transit is federally funded, asked if entering into a partnership for public transit would give the counties a better opportunity to receive federal funding. Hunzeker said, “I would like to think so, because the federal funding on joint efforts is usually better than single county efforts.”

Questions were raised about whether such a large project would generate revenue, as well as how funding would be split up between the counties. Hunzeker replied by saying that the counties could always say no to the project as review of it continues, but “if there are opportunities here for funding, for staffing, for service expansion, I think that will all come out in the proposal process.”

Another potential transit project, which had been discussed by Sarasota County commissioners earlier in the year and was thrown around at Tuesday's meeting, was Bus Rapid Transit, in which bus transportation would be made faster and more efficient by giving buses their own roads to operate on, and is designed to encourage denser and more transit-oriented development. A possible US 41 corridor for BRT was discussed. Hunzeker said, “What we have (in our counties today) is a very constrictive roadway,” adding that dedicating a lane or more to BRT would be a challenge no matter where BRT would run, but implied that looking into the project was still worthy of attention.

Sarasota Commissioner Nora Patterson raised the issue of whether much of the proposed US 41 corridor that BRT would run on currently has enough density to support such a system.

Jon Paul, a consultant with NUE Urban Concepts, argued that there is in fact enough density, saying that people that live within a quarter of a mile of US 41 would be willing to walk to use BRT, and also brought up landmarks such as New College and SRQ Airport. Paul said that the US 301 corridor was also a BRT option, and that a report on the idea would be given to commissioners in late May or June, but that “right now, it appears US 41 has the densities that could support transit.”


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