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Sarasota Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 3 months ago

County moves ahead with transportation priority plan

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Transit solutions big and small work their way from proposals to nearly finished projects.
by: Blake Fussell Staff Writer

Under the best of conditions, getting around Sarasota can be a breeze or something less pleasant whether on foot, behind the wheel or astride a bicycle. Add to normal traffic the thousands of visitors who spend the winters here, and the Point A to Point B experience can get downright frustrating.

Toward the end of improving commutes, trips to the store or rides to the beach, city and county leaders over the last few weeks have taken steps to prioritize transit projects in the short term and beyond, within the city limits and farther away.

From highways and bridges to electric scooters, here’s a look at what’s taken place and where a variety of projects are heading.

 

County transportation priorities

County Commissioners last week signed off on a range of road and mobility projects, which they advanced to the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization for funding consideration.

Many of the proposals focused on new areas of growth, many of them east of Interstate 75, designed to link with Lakewood Ranch growth to the north and one day serve as alternative north-south route.

Working with several categories of priorities, one of the County Commissioners’ most urgent projects was widening Fruitville Road to four lanes from Sarasota Center Boulevard to Lorraine Road.

A further extension of Lorraine Road from Palmer Boulevard to Fruitville Road was also highly ranked, ultimately connecting the two projects to create a new option.

“Until we get a full Lorraine extension down, that will alleviate a lot of the traffic people in that area are frustrated with,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “It brings vital attention to the area east of the interstate. I think this is a really good list.”

The intersection of Tamiami Trail and University Parkway also was highly ranked by commissioners for improvements to both the vehicle travel lanes and capacity for pedestrians and other forms of transit.

Just west of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the intersection is amid an area of colleges, universities, retail, residential and hotels.

Bridge projects were also included in the commissioners’ rankings. The top ranked project was improvements to the Blackburn Point Swing Bridge in Osprey, but funding was also sought for an overpass leading across Interstate 75 from North Cattlemen Road to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

Commissioners approved priorities unanimously and expected MPO to adopt them. There was little discussion after the Public Works’s presentation, as a motion to move the plans forward came was presented less than ten minutes later.

 

Micro-transport

City commissioners on Tuesday approved a deal with an e-scooter and bike-sharing provider with hopes to launch service in the city by March.  Chicago-based Veo will serve as the city’s exclusive provider of rented e-scooters and both traditional and power-assisted bicycles in portions of the city.

“We’re overjoyed to be bringing these convenient, safe and cost-effective transportation options to Sarasota,” said Mayor Erik Arroyo. “Having a micro-mobility program will help fill in the gaps in our transportation network for first-mile and last-mile trips to help our citizens get where they want and need to go. I’m looking forward to this transformative and successful partnership with Veo.” 

Micro transit is coming to the city of Sarasota.

Veo will bring about 400 scooters and about 50-75 bicycles to the city.

Rental costs for scooters will be $1 to unlock them via a mobile app, and 37 cents a minute. Bike rentals will be 50 cents per half hour. Through its Veo Access program, the company also offers discounted rates to low-income users who qualify. 

Veo was the winner of three companies bidding for the deal with the city.

 

Parking, roundabout on Siesta

Two approved road projects have slowly made progress on Siesta Key and will require construction through at least one winter season. Some residents have worried the projects will add to traffic concerns they already had.

Parking work is underway on Siesta Key.

One project is in the process of creating 22 diagonal parking spaces along Ocean Boulevard. The other project will include a new roundabout at the intersection of Midnight Pass and Beach Road in 2023.

The parking project has already affected traffic as construction teams have dug up areas of the sidewalk as workers built space to accommodate the new parking system.

But the potential for traffic issues along Ocean Boulevard extend past the temporary lane closure. The new, diagonal design of the parking spaces will require motorists to back-up onto the street, which is lined with businesses and is key for travel to many of the island’s amenities.

While the parking project has made noticeable progress, a roundabout at Midnight Pass and Beach roads is still in the design phase with construction still months away, said Public Works Director Spencer Anderson.

“The construction duration has not been determined but it should be expected to occur through at least one winter season,” he said.

The roundabout is intended to make the intersection safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, to reduce maintenance costs and to have vehicles travel at slower speeds, according to a list provided by Anderson. But at least one Siesta Key resident, Capers Jones, thinks slowing vehicles down further will not be an improvement.

Jones said traffic on the island has been difficult to traverse and will get worse if two recently approved hotels begin construction. When the roundabout at Midnight Pass and Beach Road get installed, he believes it could be the tipping point for a very difficult traffic situation.

“Well, there’s no way to tell from data because they haven’t built the thing yet,” Jones said. “But if they put those hotels up by the bridge where traffic already gets slowed down, that roundabout is only going to make it all worse.”

Improvements to the intersection have been in the works since 2015 and the project will be funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. However, Sarasota County is in charge of the design.

Funding for the parking work and the roundabout design was approved in January 2021 under a $610,000 budget amendment made by the county commission.

Sarasota city transportation priorities revolve around roundabouts.
 

Roundabouts in the city 

Sarasota in 2021 and again in 2022 packaged roundabout projects at U.S. 41 and Ringling Boulevard, Main Street, Myrtle Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into the top two positions. In 2022, No. 3 is a project to improve cycling and pedestrian access along U.S. 41 from 14th Street north to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which includes the replacement of the Whitaker Bayou Bridge.

Acknowledging that typically the top three options get the most attention from the MPO, city transportation planner Alvimarie Corales and Ryan Chapdelain, the general manager of the city's Planning Department, said progress on the roundabouts is necessary to end up with a smoother flow of traffic along the bayfront and to complement the continuing switch from standard intersections to roundabouts.

 

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