The Metropolitan Planning Organization is preparing its long-range transportation plan for U.S. 41 from Palmetto to the south Sarasota County border and recently sought input from the city on what it considered its top priorities.
Commissioners unanimously voted to make transportation improvements in north Sarasota their No. 1 objective.
“We have a chance of integrating all those institutions up there,” said Commissioner Terry Turner. “It can be the next big part of our economic plan.”
The board made the section of U.S. 41 from University of South Florida to Orange Avenue its top priority and from Orange Avenue to Bee Ridge Road its second priority.
The city is already planning six roundabouts along the bayfront (see box page 1) as part of its connectivity plan. The MPO plan could call for four more, at the U.S. 41 intersections with the entrance to to USF, University Parkway, Myrtle Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
However, most of the proposed improvements in the transportation plan are new or expanded sidewalks for pedestrians and bicycle lanes.
The goal of the bayfront-connectivity plan is to slow traffic by reducing lane width and widening and landscaping the medians, as well as posting slower speed-limit signs.
Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins feared that would shift a lot of traffic to U.S. 301.
“If we’re going to do all these things to 41, we’re going to turn that six-lane 301 into a high-speed track,” he said. “We need to make sure we have a plan for safety for 301.”
But City Engineer Alex DavisShaw said the roundabouts on U.S. 41 may actually invite more drivers.
“Without (stoplights) on 41, it should allow the same amount of volume and maybe even more,” she said. “If we’re thoughtful as to how we make these modifications, we can make it function better and not funnel off traffic.”
The roundabouts at 14th Street and 10th Street are already fully funded at a total of about $5 million, and FDOT will choose a contractor in the next few weeks.
Funding for the rest of the bayfront connectivity plan will come in stages that are yet to be determined.
The rest of the MPO’s long-range transportation plan will take decades to fund and build.
ROUNDABOUT SIX PACK
The city-approved bayfront connectivity plan calls for six roundabouts on U.S. 41 at the following intersections:
• 14th Street
• 10th Street
• Fruitvillle Road
• Main Street
• Orange Avenue