Someone once observed that “roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses.” Decades ago Manatee County had several commissioners who hoped to thwart growth in our county by refusing to build and enlarge roads. Those “ostrich commissioners” made many poor decisions that set back transportation in our county. Today, we sit in traffic jams caused by those short-sighted commissioners.
Six years ago Commissioners Steve Johnson and Vanessa Baugh pleaded with their fellow commissioners to utilize the county’s reserve funds to begin expanding the transportation infrastructure. Their fellow commissioners instead listened to Clerk of the Court Angel Colonneso who advised against using the funds. Angel Colonneso had $620 million of county funds sitting in a checking account.
Fortunately, we now have a county commission that is serious about building the infrastructure that is needed in our community. Commissioner George Kruse disagreed with the past commissioners who believed you needed to collect the money before you committed to the infrastructure investments. Kruse believed the county was missing out on an opportunity to raise bond funds while interest rates were low.
Kruse and his fellow commissioners with the help of Chad Butzow, Director of Public Works, have been able to raise $250 million from bond sales and they have also freed up $100 million of excess reserves to start funding infrastructure projects.
One of the projects is to fix a major mistake made by a former commissioner. When 75th Street West was enlarged over a decade ago, one county commissioner prevented the increase to 4 lanes to extend the whole way between Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road. Funding has now been approved to extend the 4 lanes from 20th Avenue West to Manatee Avenue. This will make 75th Street safer and a more efficient roadway.
59th Street West is being expanded to 4 lanes from Cortez Road to Manatee Avenue. This will allow emergency vehicles to reach Blake Hospital much quicker while also allowing for more efficient traffic flow on this major roadway.
63rd Avenue East is being widened from US 301 to Tuttle Avenue. This will also keep traffic flowing smoothly in a growing area of the county.
Ft. Hammer Bridge is another area that is being improved so that eventually the county will have another north-south roadway from Hillsborough County to Sarasota County.
Several major intersections are also being improved which will allow for smoother traffic flow.
These upgrades to our transportation system are essential but they are just the start of many investments that need to be made. The frustrating part to people like Kruse, Baugh and former commissioner Jonnson is that because the county listened to bad advice from people like Colonneso, we are getting less bang for the taxpayer buck because costs and interest rates have increased dramatically in the last 2 years.
Many Manatee County residents are experiencing traffic congestion because many past commissioners had their heads buried in the sand. Fortunately, our present commissioners realize that growth is inevitable and requires proper planning in order to avoid making life miserable for our residents.