The MPO will release the first draft of its official Long-Range Transportation Plan in September.
On April 22, government officials from all around the greater Sarasota-Manatee metropolitan area gathered to address community issues and transportation priorities spanning the next 25 years.
Hosted by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, presentations during the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan workshop covered such topics as community-identified concerns, federal and state priorities, local road priorities, feasible future improvements and more.
The reason for the 25-year timeframe, according to the MPO, is that 25 years is the average amount of time needed to plan and implement transportation projects. And, as each community in the area has its own unique set of needs, the workshop provided the opportunity for the MPO to compare and contrast the wide variety of priorities as noted across the region.
“Proper planning sets the right foundation,” said L.K. Nandam, the secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 1, “So it’s very exciting to talk about the future of this region as we talk about this long-range transportation planning process.”
While both Sarasota and Manatee counties maintained several common themes in their local comprehensive plans — like access to jobs, redevelopment, affordable housing and more — Sarasota County identified population growth, crime and traffic as the top three community concerns for the area.
While two of the three may not seem related to the future of countywide transportation, Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson begs to differ.
“It’s really a three-legged stool,” Anderson said. “If one of those suffer, the other two will equally suffer.”
Community concerns were pulled from the county's annual community survey and included other non-transportation-related issues such as health care, homelessness, stormwater and public schools.
Federal and State Road Priorities
Sarasota County will be transferring ownership of two prominent roads over to the Florida state government. This way, both governments can effectively collaborate on a means of reducing traffic congestion at certain major intersections in the county.
River Road and Stickney Point Road, specifically, are currently in the process of being transferred, with River Road to go under construction and conversion into a four or six-lane road starting in 2021.
According to Anderson, officials also plan to pursue the development of a road that would run parallel to Interstate 75, aimed at easing the strain of traffic just east of the major highway.
Other priorities included:
- A new interchange at I-75 and Yorkshire Street
- Widening I-75 to eight lanes from Fruitville Road to Sumter Boulevard
- Widening U.S. 41 to six lanes from River Road to the North Port City boundary
Local Road Priorities
Local transportation priorities will likely sound familiar to longtime county residents, such as the Legacy Trail extension, which voters approved of by about 70% in the November 2018 midterm election.
Otherwise, county officials are looking to complete a Future Thoroughfare Plan, which involves road gap projects and widened designs for Lorraine Road, Proctor Road, Honore Avenue and an I-75 overpass from Lakewood Ranch to Cattleman Road.
Officials also want to pursue:
- An updated plan for bicycle and pedestrian accessibility across the county
- Increased transportation capacity on and off barrier islands
- Preservation the existing transportation systems.
- Intersection improvements at Cattleman Road/Richardson Road and Pinebrook Road/Venice Avenue
- Development of complete street regulations
To effectively reach 2045 with increased transportation efficiency, Sarasota County plans to primarily focus on “emerging” changes in mobility, which could involve further exploration of scooters, trolley systems, autonomous vehicles and alternative fuel sources.
But will the county be able to afford this?
“Our funding sources are challenged,” Anderson said. “We have gas taxes and taxes we depend on from our food sales, but those are declining … They’ve been fixed and they have not increased for inflation. So, we have to depend on other sources of funding in the county.”
And that is the county’s other major 2045 priority: secure and establish a long-term transportation funding plan.
Among potential sources of money, the county has identified revenue from federal and state governments, as well as continued reliance on the gas tax and other surtaxes.
But Sarasota County is not the only local government in the region who needs to consider how they’re going to prioritize their transportation-related funds for 2045.
“We have to make choices and we have many of them to make — and limited resources,” MPO Strategic Planning Leigh Holt said. “I’m actually shocked that not every presentation said ‘There’s not enough money to do everything we need to do,’ because that is always a problem … There are not enough resources to do all of the things you heard today.”