US Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Longboat Key) discussed the merits of an east-west connector road linking Port Manatee to I-75 during a visit to the busy port Sept. 21st.

‘I will be consulting with Congressman Buchanan and port officials to determine the correct approach for this project and to analyze funding options,’ Secretary Peters said.

A feasibility study for the proposed road is already complete and a $3.5 million Project Development and Environment Study is funded and out to bid. No timetable is set for the proposed road, but port officials told Secretary Peters and the congressman the road is needed to accommodate anticipated escalating highway demands expected to coincide with the completion of the expanded Panama Canal in 2014.

CSX Transportation’s Integrated Logistics Center near Winter Haven, Fla., will also put new demands on existing roadway networks serving the port.

According to the latest economic impact study, Port Manatee contributes $2.3 billion annually to Manatee County and creates more than 22,000 jobs both directly and indirectly.

‘We must be forward thinkers and seek appropriate solutions now to preserve the port’s unencumbered access to the interstate system,’ Buchanan said. ‘We’ll work with Secretary Peters and local officials to help the port overcome this pressing transportation challenge.’

During their visit, Secretary Peters and Buchanan acknowledged the need for the connector and stressed the importance of public-private partnerships to help secure funding for the project.

Secretary Peters and Buchanan later hosted a transportation forum for elected officials from Manatee and Sarasota counties at Keiser University.