Federal funding sought to replace county buses with trolleys on island routes

County also hoping to put up 16 new bus shelters

County plans call for bus shelters to be installed at two stops near Siesta Public Beach. Photo by Rachel Hackney

If the Federal Transit Administration approves $3.63 million in grant funds the Sarasota County Commission unanimously has authorized staff to apply for, public bus riders could be taking trolleys to Siesta Key by October 2013.

The funds also would pay for 16 new bus shelters in Sarasota County at a cost of $84,113, with another $100,000 planned for installing the shelters, according to a staff memo.

Sara Blanchard, a planner in the Sarasota County Area Transit office, told the commissioners during their July 10 regular meeting in Venice that the federal funds would pay for two trolleys on SCAT Route 11, which serves Siesta Key as well as downtown Sarasota, along with a trolley on Route 18, which serves Lido Key.

Altogether, the proposal called for purchasing five 35-foot trolleys at a cost of $2.25 million, according to the staff memo.

A trolley already operates on Longboat Key, Blanchard pointed out during the July 10 discussion. “The vision is to put trolley service on all the island services,” she said in response to a question from Chairwoman Christine Robinson about whether such service was being planned for the island of Venice.

The grant application at this point would not provide enough money to include Venice, Blanchard said.

“I think that we support direction for staff to look for funding for the island of Venice,” Commissioner Jon Thaxton said.

All the Federal Transit Administration grants require matching funds from the county, Commissioner Nora Patterson pointed out.

The staff memo noted that SCAT would be using $908,529.00 in Florida Department of Transportation Toll Revenue Credits as the 20% local match for the FTA grant, if it is approved.

“I just don’t see any harm in looking for the money,” Thaxton said, making the suggestion a motion. Perhaps county staff could talk with merchants in Venice about a partnership to help with the funding, he added.

Patterson seconded the motion, which passed unanimously, but she said the commission needed to send out a realistic message with the action — that the trolley service in Venice is “not gonna happen tomorrow or by the end of the year.”

Then Robinson asked Blanchard where the new bus shelters would go.

Staff had identified about 20 places where pads already had been installed for shelters, Blanchard said. Among those are a SCAT stop at the North Sarasota Library on Newtown Estates Boulevard, Orange Avenue at Eighth Street in Sarasota, the northwest corner of the intersection of Beneva Road and Bee Ridge Road and multiple locations along U.S. 41 in Osprey and Nokomis.

Additionally, she said, the Florida Department of Transportation had allocated funds for the design of two bus shelters near the Siesta Key Public Beach, one near a park exit and one across the street. Blanchard added that staff still was working on the site on the east side of Beach Road.

SCAT had construction funds in its budget that could be used for those shelters, she said.

The top priority for the shelter locations were sites where SCAT needed to meet criteria of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Blanchard said. For example, complaints about the SCAT stop at Orange Avenue and Eighth Street had put that location on the list.

In March 2011, she pointed out, SCAT had to remove about 18 shelters in the city of Sarasota because they were not ADA-compliant. Those also would have to be replaced, she said.

Some were located on private property, Blanchard noted, “so we are working on some acquisition [of property].”

She added, “We have over 2,000 bus stops out there and only a small percentage meet the ADA requirements. Our goal is to make our bus stops accessible to wheelchairs,” she said.

High ridership — locations serving two or more routes — also was factored into the priority list, Blanchard said.

 Planned SCAT bus shelter locations

The following is the list of planned bus shelter locations presented to the County Commission on July 10:

• Newtown Estates Boulevard at Martin Luther King Way (North Sarasota Library)

• Orange Avenue at Eighth Street in Sarasota

• U.S. 41 at Albee Road (both the east and west sides of the highway)

• U.S. 41 at Nippino Trail

• U.S. 41 at Bay Acres Avenue

• U.S. 41 at Preymore Street

• U.S. 41 at Pocono Trail

• Beneva Road at Bee Ridge Road (northwest corner)

• Clark Road at Fielding (north side of Clark)

• School Avenue at the Sarasota County Health Department in Sarasota

• Beneva Road at Circus Boulevard

• U.S. 41 between Bay Street and Wood Street in Sarasota (northbound)

• U.S. 301 at various locations north of 10th Street in Sarasota