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Opinion
Longboat Key Wednesday, May 27, 2020 2 months ago

Barrier islands be alert

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Sarasota’s new transportation plan includes projects that will affect the residents of the keys. Now is the time to assure the islands are heard.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

When it comes to transportation issues, official communication from the city of Sarasota to the town of Longboat Key often can be described as crickets chirping in the night. Actually, not even that.

“Frosty” is another word. Or the cliche: “falling on deaf ears.” That is, Longboat’s voiced concerns for many years have fallen on deaf ears.

Over the past six months or so, there has been some improvement, but that’s thanks in large part to Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association. She has persistently begged, pleaded and almost screamed to have the city address the notorious traffic clusters along the John Ringling Causeway and at the infamous Gulfstream Avenue/U.S. 41/Fruitville Road intersections.

There was also the incident of the mayor of Sarasota experiencing a frustrating trip to and from Lido Beach in February. That compelled Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch to urge city officials and the Florida Department of Transportation to reopen the third left turn lane at Gulfstream and 41 — a situation Longboaters railed for months that needed to be addressed.   

As we all know, the city still intends to proceed with the installation of the roundabout at that intersection, much to the chagrin of many Longboaters. A group of town residents even began circulating a petition to stop it, but then the COVID-19 pandemic pretty much took the momentum out of that effort, at least for now.

In fact, if you’ve been out at all over the past two months, driving from Longboat to the mainland and back has felt like driving in September, when traffic is at its lowest ebb.

But that’s likely to be the calm before more storms.

At last week’s Sarasota City Commission meeting, commissioners engaged in their first discussions about  the Sarasota in Motion Transportation Master Plan.

Longboaters, take note.

We have listed aside the 10 projects that consultants from ADEASQ presented in a 25-page report to the Sarasota commission. As you peruse them, you’ll see that Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9 will have the most direct effect on motorists from the keys.

Once again, you can see the city still appears intent on narrowing Fruitville Road between Tamiami Trail and U.S. 301. If you tuned into the City Commission meeting, you would have heard discussion about bicyclists and trolleys sharing special lanes all along John Ringling Causeway.

And if you read the details of this master plan, you can see the primary focus of it is on bicycles, pedestrians, trails and aesthetics. Commissioner Hagen Brody astutely commented there was nothing in the master plan that addressed improving travel for people in cars. Brody noted that fact this way: Sarasota is going to continue to grow in population. What in this master plan addresses how to manage the increase in cars and people?

He asked the city staff and consultants to address that question in the next round. But we already have the answer.

If City Manager Tom Barwin and the city planning staff had their way, they would have everyone walking or riding a bike or a trolley. That’s really not much of an exaggeration. Creating a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly transportation network always has been a desire and priority for Barwin.

That’s not a bad goal — to have more people getting around downtown that way and fewer cars on the road. That’s a good goal. But it’s still a reality that the people visiting and living on the barrier islands will need to use their cars to go to restaurants, shops, theaters and doctor appointments, as well as to run from approaching hurricanes.

Given the fiscal state of Sarasota City Hall (e.g., unfunded pension liabilities, $300 million needed over 10 years for water and sewer improvements, the parks master plan, the Bay, etc.), no one really knows how much, if any, of these 10 projects is likely to occur soon.

But Longboat Key town commissioners, the St. Armands Circle Association and the St. Armands, Lido Key and Bird Key homeowner associations should be on alert. If and when Sarasota city commissioners start taking seriously the transportation projects that will affect the barrier islands, the island constituents should (firmly) request to be heard.

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