Although lane closures aren’t expected until spring, the Florida Department of Transportation began initial work this week on a project that will include the installation of a concrete median down the center of U.S. 41 between Bee Ridge Road and Siesta Drive.
The project also calls for longer turn lanes for traffic trying to access Bee Ridge Road and Siesta Drive. All of the work will be done in the existing right of way.
Construction has been scheduled between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the 0.4-mile stretch, said Scott Guthrie, project administrator for FDOT. Starting in April, the two inside, southbound lanes of U.S. 41 will be closed at night, with traffic funneled into the single outside lane, he said. Once that work is complete, he added, the contractor will move to the northbound lanes and repeat the process.
“It’s a safety job,” Cindy Clemmons, public information officer for FDOT, explained during an open house Jan. 10, at Southside Baptist Church, located at 2035 Magnolia St., near the project area.
The use of the roadway’s center lane for drivers trying to make left-hand turns from both directions has led to “a lot of crashes,” Clemmons explained. That situation also has led to “stacking,” she said, referring to cars backed up behind the turning vehicles.
“Then you also have a lot of people doing mid-block crossings,” she added.
Putting in the concrete median, Clemmons said, will give pedestrians, “to some degree, a small place of respite” as they try to cross the road.
The median will be 3 feet wide and about 8 inches above the road, according to Henri Belrose of the Wantman Group in Tampa. Wantman worked with the contractor, Conen and Graham, to develop the design/build project. Belrose said the design was completed late last summer.
The project also calls for new pedestrian crosswalk safety features at Bee Ridge Road, Clemmons said
During early discussions about the project several months ago, merchants at Westfield Southgate Mall expressed concerns that drivers attempting to reach the mall would be impeded by the new median, said Brian Bollas, planning and environment manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, an FDOT consultant. In response to those concerns, Bollas said, the designers had added a break in the median to allow southbound traffic to turn left into the mall parking lot.
No break in the median has been planned for northbound traffic, Bollas said.
“Where we could, we made tweaks (in the design),” Clemmons said.
Sam Davidson, marketing director for Westfield Southgate, attended the open house Tuesday evening, but he declined to comment.
Tony Morano, general manager of the IHOP at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail, was among the members of the public studying the FDOT designs during the open house. “We’ll see how it goes, how traffic is,” once the median is complete, he said. “We were shocked,” he added, to learn that the preliminary work was getting under way that night.
Clemmons said FDOT had held a public hearing on the project several months ago. However, Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson told members of the Siesta Key Association that she had been unaware of the plans until Jan. 5.
FDOT Engineering Manager Albert Rosenstein said during the Jan. 5 SKA meeting that the U.S. 41 project had been scheduled so it would be completed before renovations start June 5 on the north Siesta bridge. City of Sarasota officials knew about the project, he added.
“We didn’t want both (projects) going on at the same time,” he said.
“We will be well out of everyone’s hair before the Siesta bridge (work begins),” Bollas said Tuesday.