Federal funding for major transportation projects is the top priority for Manatee County commissioners as they prepare for their annual lobbying trip to Washington DC to meet with national legislators.
Manatee County commissioners discussed a draft of their legislative priorities last week and will vote on the final list at their April 12 meeting. Commissioners and county staff are scheduled to travel to DC in May, but dates are still in discussion.
Funding for the Fort Hamer Road expansion project headlines the list, which also includes efforts to secure federal funds to build and operate a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans, increase funding for affordable housing, and reclassify manatees as endangered species.
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Fort Hamer expansion
The county is requesting more than $38.96 million in grant funding for a widening of Fort Hamer Road to four lanes from US 301 to the Manatee River and $39.02 million to build a second bridge for the road to add two additional travel lanes across the river.
“I really felt it was important to put Fort Hamer Bridge No. 1 because it’s transportation, it’s a huge ask, and I don’t think we can do it without federal money,” County Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge said last week. “Affordable housing should probably be No. 2.”
Commissioners are requesting funds from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program. President Joe Biden increased the amount of available program funding by 50% through his infrastructure law, bringing the total of available in 2022 to $1.5 billion.
The county could contribute an additional $19.48 million in matching funding for the road widening and $19.5 million for bridge construction.
Veterans services and housing
County officials are requesting $15 million to help fund the construction of a veterans services and housing facility at the former Manatee County jail building, and an annual allocation of between $3 million to $4 million from Supportive Services for Veterans Families and Grant Per-Diem funds for operating costs.
The annual allocations would cover the cost of case management, homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing, and daily operational costs.
Commissioners Misty Seria said federal funding is an important part of the effort since the facility would draw veterans who come from across the nation for assistance.
“Make no mistake it will attract veterans from outside Manatee County to come here,” Servia said. “We don’t have enough money to stretch it that thin. So I just want to think ahead and make sure there is federal funding to operate it if we are going in that direction.”
Affordable housing needs
County commissioners are emphasizing the need for additional funding to assist with affordable housing initiatives and are making support for the Affordable Housing and Credit Improvement Act one of their top priorities to lobby for this year.
“The intention (of the act) is to increase these credits by about 50% to make them more usable,” Commissioner George Kruse said, adding that Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, is a co-sponsor for the bill in the US House of Representatives.
“It adds a little bit more meat to a specific request about affordable housing, which is what we need,” Kruse said.
Walkable paths in Palmetto
Officials are requesting about $14.68 million in RAISE grant funding for the Palmetto Trails Connectivity and Mobility Project, which aims to create seven multimodal connections between local schools, parks and community centers by 2030.
Manatee County, the city of Palmetto, the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency, Manatee County Area Transit, and the Florida Department of Transportation would provide about $3.67 million in additional matching funds.
Commissioners also reinforced the need for legislation like the Manatee Protection Act, which was introduced by Buchanan in August. The effort would reclassify West Indian manatees from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
The Florida Wildlife Commission reports 1,000 manatees died in 2021 and estimates there are about 6,500 manatees remaining in the southeastern United States.
Endangered classification would increase federal resources for manatee protection.