On Monday, May 17th, Manatee County hosted Kevin J. Thibault, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to discuss the area’s growing transportation needs. The visit included a presentation starting at the Tampa Bay Port and then continued by helicopter for an aerial view of the county’s current and future transportation needs.
Secretary Thibault was hosted by a joint partnership consisting of Manatee County Board of Commissioners, Port Manatee, and Manatee County Chamber of Commerce. Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge extended a long-standing invitation to the Secretary this past legislative session during a visit to Tallahassee. Van Ostenbridge worked with Manatee Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee Chair, Richard Bedford, to help arrange the presentation and tour. Commissioner Van Ostenbridge was a former member of the Chamber’s Transportation Committee. His previous experience and interaction with The Chamber of Commerce created a good working relationship.
The visit started at Port Manatee and began with a presentation focused on the county’s roads and growth. The presentation included recently completed projects, current projects under construction, and future construction.
Sheriff Rick Wells’s presentation was able to outline several safety concerns surrounding the county’s transportation needs. Road improvements are being made not only to make commutes easier and faster but with an importance on safety. When it comes to safety, Manatee County has some serious road issues – the intersection of Verna Bethany Rd and SR 70 is one of the most dangerous in Manatee County. Bonding the construction of high-priority improvements is an option the county is exploring to complete them sooner.
Van Ostenbridge told Manatee Herald, “We were very fortunate to have Secretary Thibault join us for this unique opportunity. It stems from our (the Board of County Commissioners’) commitment to an in-person visit to Tallahassee this past legislative session while others stayed home. We are working hard and investing in our infrastructure, but can’t do it alone. We need state assistance. Some of the roads we are investing in also provide relief to some of our state-funded roads. This visit was a great investment in our ability to get things done. The sooner we are able to make these improvements to our community’s roads and bridges, the sooner we are able to not only make the roads easier to travel but safer as well. If only one life is saved from the efforts we are doing, it’s all worth it.”
After the presentation at Port Manatee, the Secretary was given a tour of the port by Carlos Buqueras, President & CEO – Port Manatee, and Dave Sanford, Deputy Executive Director at Port Manatee. According to the Port Manatee website, “Port Manatee is the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the Panama Canal, serving bulk, breakbulk, container, heavy lift, project and general cargo customers. The port generates more than $3.9 billion in annual economic impact for the local community while supporting more than 27,000 direct and indirect jobs, without the benefit of ad-valorem taxes.”
The meeting continued by connecting with Manatee County Sheriff’s pilot and co-pilot to begin the 1-hour aerial tour during the afternoon rush hour. In addition to the two pilots, Secretary Thibault, Commissioner Van Ostenbridge, and Chairman Bedford were joined by Manatee County Administrator, Scott Hopes. Some of the points of interest to show the Secretary were:
- Cortez and Anna Maria Island Bridges
- The intersection at 75th and Manatee
- The intersection at 43rd and Manatee
- Downtown Bradenton including the intersection of Manatee Ave E and US 41 by the Manatee Memorial Hospital
- Moccasin Wallow Rd
- Piney Point
- Ft. Hamer Bridge
- The intersection of Verna Bethany Rd and SR 70
- 44th Ave
- 63rd and Lockwood Ridge
Bedford told Manatee Herald, “Our goal was to show the state what we’ve done as a county and what we are planning to do. Our county made substantial investments in our transportation infrastructure. In addition to the money the county has invested, we have also used the funds provided by the state wisely and responsibly. We live in a special place. Our area is different than some of our neighboring counties with our room for growth. A state and county partnership will help both achieve a better outcome. We hope they (the state) see their funds has been money well spent.”
Manatee County Administrator, Scott Hopes told Manatee Herald, “We have a number of growth issues and projects to address in Manatee County. Manatee County looks very different from a thousand feet in the air and the Secretary was able to look in every direction to see the growth in real-time. When we talked about growth and people moving here, the Secretary was able to see it with his own eyes at those altitudes a perspective you normally wouldn’t get if you were just driving around. We also viewed our bridge needs where we have four new bridges on the ten-year plan for the Department of Transportation. He could see firsthand with traffic those bridges are needed.”
According to Hopes, the Secretary was also able to see all the road projects completed by the County through public and private partnerships like the Ft. Hamer Bridge and the Ft. Hamer extension. He indicated the Secretary was able to see the investment taxpayers are making first hand. Hopes estimated probably 70% of the county road projects are reliever roads that will pull traffic off state roads which should be beneficial with regards to priority for funding. Hopes added, “It’s hard to imagine that there’s another County in Florida that could possibly be growing at the rate we’re going. Most of the statistics show us as one of the fastest-growing counties in the state”.