Some Sarasota boaters envision traffic jams and fender benders if the city moves forward with its current plans to install a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and 10th Street.
They object to one part of the project that would close the main entrance to the boat ramp and force boaters to use an alternate entrance. They also worry that a roundabout will add to confusion as boaters enter and leave the ramp at Centennial Park, especially on weekends, when hundreds of boaters use the ramp.
“It doesn’t seem like anyone said, ‘What about the boat ramp and all that activity?’” said Harry Owen, owner of H20 Marine.
The main concern is the closure of the entrance.
The plan is to install a multi-lane roundabout at 10th Street and U.S. 41, as early as 2014. The main entrance to the boat ramp from 10th Street is slated to be closed off, thus forcing boaters to use an entrance from the southbound lanes of U.S. 41 to access the boat ramp.
If a roundabout is constructed — as currently planned — boaters coming from the south would have to merge left across traffic and turn from U.S. 41 across southbound traffic to get to the ramp area; or they would have to make a U-turn farther up the thoroughfare.
Boaters leaving from the ramp to head north will have to make a hard right turn onto U.S. 41 and then head north through the roundabout.
“I am trying to picture 30- or 40-foot trailers going around the roundabout and making their way across two lanes of traffic,” Owen said. “We’re not engineers, but we are professionals in the business and avid boaters and we know boaters. This is a recipe for a mess.”
The Centennial Park Boat Ramp is one of the most popular boating access points in the city.
The afternoon of Friday, Oct. 12, about a dozen boaters towed their boats in through the entrance on 10th Street. Owen said the entrance off 10th Street is the most navigable for trucks pulling trailers.
If city and state officials could determine a way to keep from closing the 10th Street entrance to the ramp, it would be a compromise boaters could live with, Owen said.
“I (still) don’t think boaters will be happy about it (the roundabout), but it would be doable,” Owen said.
Millions in state funding has been set aside, and plans for the two roundabouts on U.S. 41 (at 10th and 14th streets) are moving ahead.
The roundabout project is still in the planning process, with more detailed engineering plans forthcoming as the next step in the process.
Current plans show that the entrance from 10th Street to the ramp will be closed. The city’s Civic Master Plan outlines a closed entrance off 10th Street to clear space for future public buildings at that location.
Another reason for closing the entrance is planners don’t want to have an entrance so close to the roundabout, said city engineer Alex DavisShaw.
Bill Erickson, owner of Erickson Marine, across from the airport, said the boat ramp is an asset for the city and that it is one of the easiest ramps to use. The ramp is centrally located for boaters who want to access Sarasota Bay and the three nearby passes.
“It is the best on the West Coast,” Erickson said. “Why tamper with this?”
He thinks the roundabout plan will cause traffic delays on the weekends.
“It is going to be bad,” Erickson said.
Erickson said boaters will be emailing city commissioners and state officials to voice concerns about the project. He suggested the city consider moving the roundabout to another location farther south on U.S. 41.
“All we are saying is this current plan is going to make it difficult for the average boater to use the boat ramp,” Erickson said.
Boaters are already frustrated by a recent project to build new bathrooms at Centennial Park that resulted in the loss of trailer parking spaces, Erickson said. Erickson would rather see the city focus on dredging around the ramp, something, he said, that has never been done.
“It will not work the way they have it drawn up,” said Howard Wells, an avid boater. “This is a dog that will not hunt.”
Wells said he feels the only solution is to keep the 10th Street entrance open.
“See that entrance down there?” he asks, standing in the parking lot. “Don’t close it. That is the solution.”