The first two of 10 multi-lane roundabouts on U.S. 41 along the bayfront got the go-ahead from the Federal Highway Administration last week.
The federal agency approved the location and design concept for the pair of roundabouts to be installed at U.S. 41 and 10th Street and U.S. 41 and 14th Street.
The approval now means the state’s Department of Transportation can begin designing the final construction plans for the two roundabouts, and it clears the way for federal funding.
The $7.9 million project would be the first of a $100 million network of roundabouts that calls for eight additional circular intersections, in addition to the two at 10th and 14th streets. The roundabouts will replace traffic lights along the bayfront.
“They will be the first ones to be constructed and open,” said Rod Warner, a roundabout proponent and member of Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s citizens advisory committee.
The total cost for the initial pair of roundabouts includes $800,000 for engineering design and $4 million for actual construction. The cost also includes
$3.1 million for right of way acquisition. The city is contributing an additional estimated $6.3 million of city-owned land as right of way.
The cost of construction and engineering work will be funded, in part, with $2.5 million in state funding and
$1.5 million in federal funding, said Robin Stublen, public information officer for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Warner said he hopes the first pair of roundabouts will get people acquainted to the circular traffic devices on the bayfront — before the other eight are constructed.
But, those who may not be on board with the new traffic-control devices have a few more years to enjoy the traffic lights along the bay because construction of the first two roundabouts is at least four or five years away.
“Design work will take at least two years,” Stublen said. “Right of way acquisition is another two years. In the perfect scenario it is four or five years before construction of this project would begin.”
Warner said the project to install 10 roundabouts would be the first of its kind in Florida.
“It will make Sarasota an even nicer, more welcoming place than it already is,” Warner said.
Roundabouts would also add an economic benefit to the North Trail, proponents argue. A well-planned corridor of roundabouts would clear the way for redevelopment along the North Trail and create a more inviting welcome — complete with upgrading landscaping and trees — to downtown from the airport.
Jeff Oldenburg said he thinks the first two roundabouts will set the stage for other roundabouts on U.S. 41 — including one at Martin Luther King Way and U.S. 41, near the strip mall he owns across the street from Ringling College of Art and Design.
“I asked Alex DavisShaw (city engineer) if I will live to see the roundabout at Martin Luther King in my lifetime, and she said I would,” Oldenburg said. “‘So, it’s not a mirage?’ I asked.”
“It will give the city’s gateway an aesthetically pleasing look,” Oldenburg said.
Oldenburg thinks it will keep traffic flowing, because there will be no red lights, but slow down the rate of speed motorists travel, making it a safer and more pleasant place for pedestrians and bicyclists on the North Trail.
Oldenburg said when he is downtown, he goes out of his way to drive through the roundabout at Five Points because it’s a more-pleasing drive.
Early discussions are under way for some element of public art to be installed in the middle of the roundabouts on U.S. 41, Warner said.
Click here to view a pdf about the roundabout project.