At a Florida Department of Transportation meeting, Siesta Key residents implored FDOT staff to maintain jurisdiction over the road.
As Sarasota County and the Florida Department of Transportation gear up for a road swap that would shift control of River Road near North Port and several Siesta Key roads, some residents are concerned about the future of Stickney Point Road, which they say is critical to a smooth evacuation.
At a 2019 public hearing, FDOT District One staff member Kyle Purvis said the purpose of the transfer is to give FDOT the opportunity to improve a high-priority hurricane evacuation route that links North Port to Interstate 75. About $25 million from the county has been set aside to fund the widening of the road.
However, many Siesta residents questioned what the swap would mean for their own hurricane routes coming off the Key.
“While we certainly care about our county neighbors, it does not ring true or logical that we are transferring an evacuation route in a highly critical area — Stickney Point Road — to improve an evacuation route in South County,” said Sally Marshall, the president of Gulf Gate Garden Homes Association.
Siesta Key has two access points: Stickney Point Road in the south and State Road 758 in the north. Siesta Key, like other barrier islands, is one of the first areas to evacuate in advance of a tropical storm or hurricane. And Stickney Point Road is the most direct road off the island.
“Stickney Point is not only a high priority hurricane evacuation route; it is the main evacuation route for most of Siesta Key and the surrounding communities,” said Neal Schleifer, president of Paradise Cove Association.
Although residents showed support for county control of “local roads,” such as North Midnight Pass Road, Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive, they expressed concerns that county control of Stickney Point Road would mean less care and attention than it has been receiving from the state.
Margaret Jean Cannon said no jurisdictional transfer should take place until FDOT figures out a plan to alleviate the congestion at U.S. 41 and Stickney Point. However, Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson said the county will regulate the swapped section of Stickney Point Road per the county’s Unified Development Code.
“Maintenance will not change as Sarasota County already performs maintenance for the Florida Department of Transportation at that location,” Anderson said.
Residents also raised concerns with the proposed mixed-use development Siesta Promenade, which is planned for the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, though Purvis reminded residents that the hearing was meant for the jurisdictional transfer of highways, not for future developments.
The project was approved by county commissioners in December 2018 but has since been in litigation after a Pine Shores resident filed a suit over what she claims were procedural errors in the approval process. Although the case was rejected at the circuit court level, it’s been appealed to a higher court.
Residents expressed concern about the estimated 8,000 to 12,000 additional vehicle trips that would be generated in the area if the project were to be finished. However, construction in the area cannot begin until a traffic light is installed at the intersection of avenues B and C
“Any activities near or adjacent to the intersection of U.S. 41, or related to the Siesta Promenade Development, would also be coordinated with FDOT,” Anderson said.
Still, residents both on Siesta Key and in the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed Siesta Promenade site have in the past shared worries about the light and stated they believe it will slow traffic moving off the island.
Instead, residents implored FDOT staff to maintain jurisdiction of the road and take public interest into future consideration.
“I expect FDOT to put their interests before that of a single property owner and express the belief that the county has failed to demonstrate appropriate concern for public interests by initiating this proposal,” said Kafi Benz, president of Council of Neighborhood Associations president.