LOOKING AHEAD: Roundabouts

 

LOOKING AHEAD: Roundabouts

 

Date: January 3, 2013
by: Roger Drouin | City Editor

 
 

 

Call it “roundabout row.” Or “circle corridor.”

Either name would be apt after a three-mile stretch of U.S. 41 is transformed by a $100 million project to construct 10 multi-lane roundabouts.

By 2014, construction could begin on the first pair of the roundabouts along the major north-south thoroughfare through downtown, with construction of the others to follow in the next two years.

But a lot has to happen before the first asphalt gets ripped up. The upcoming year will be a big one for roundabouts, as the Florida Department of Transportation completes the initial planning and design phase and finalizes funding for the network of traffic circles from University Parkway south to Orange Avenue.

In January, after an upcoming public hearing, the FDOT is expected to complete the planning and design phase for the first two two-lane roundabouts on U.S. 41, at 10th and 14th streets.

“That is a key moment,” says Rod Warner, a Sarasota resident and member of the grassroots, pro-roundabout group US41 Momentum.

Throughout 2013, the roundabouts will come closer to fruition.

“By mid-summer 2013, we should have funding in place for eight roundabouts (on U.S. 41),” Warner says. “It should be a good year.”

The next step in the process would be to obtain additional right of way land to make construction possible.

The network of bayfront roundabouts would spread into downtown streets where drivers would have to slow to circle through smaller roundabouts at intersections at Orange Avenue and Main Street. Three smaller single-lane roundabouts have already been constructed downtown.

In total, 15 roundabouts are in some phase of the planning process. Downtown, three roundabouts have been built; a roundabout at Main Street and Orange has received funding; and an additional roundabout has been proposed.

On U.S. 41, three roundabouts have received funding; three have received partial funding — from the city and state — and four additional roundabouts have been proposed.

Two sides to the circle
Proponents such as Warner say the chain of roundabouts, estimated to cost $100 million to construct, will do more than just slow traffic. They say they will help keep tourists downtown, add lush landscaping and greenery along the roadway, help spur long-awaited redevelopment on the North Trail and, most importantly, make it easier for people to cross from downtown to the bayfront.

Warner says US41 Momentum is trying to get local and state officials to fast track the project.

“We would like to see (the project complete) before they take away our licenses because we’re too old to drive,” said Warner, who noted that the four members of US 41 Momentum are age 60 or over.

The group has met with all five county and city commissioners.

Opponents, however, worry that the city is rushing toward roundabouts before the impacts to motorists and pedestrians are known.

Over the past few years, former Longboat Key Mayor Lee Rothenberg, along with other officials on Longboat, protested the chain of roundabouts, in particular the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue.

“There is a significant amount of traffic that goes through that intersection and goes south,” Rothenberg said in an interview with the Sarasota Observer in September. “And what Longboat people have been scared to death of is that a roundabout there will slow down traffic and cause problems for people trying to get to the South Trail.”

Rothenberg worries that the roundabouts on 10th and 14th streets will clear the way for the other eight proposed on U.S. 41, one of which is already fully funded.

But Warner points to Clearwater, where, after a multi-lane roundabout was installed, many of the same residents who initially opposed the project eventually voiced support for additional roundabouts in the city. That roundabout was one of the first of its size in the United States.

“They began petitioning City Hall for more,” Warner says.

Welcoming highway
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, they say.

Advocates also say roundabouts would transform the roadway into a unique landmark. They point to the roundabout at Five Points downtown.

Landscaped roundabouts often adorned with artwork are the opposite of boring “could-be-anywhere” intersections, reads the US41 Momentum website.

As far as the roundabouts causing issues for pedestrians, Warner and other advocates are also pushing for a pedestrian-friendly crossing on U.S. 41 between Fruitville Road and Gulfstream Avenue.

Contact Roger Drouin at rdrouin@yourobserver.com.

Click here to see a map of the proposed roundabouts. 

 

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