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Longboat Key Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2020 2 years ago

FDOT pledges to wait until after 2021 season to redirect traffic

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Roundabout work at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream won't start until after 10th, 14th, and Fruitville projects are finished, official says.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

State transportation officials last week assured city leaders on both sides of Sarasota Bay that work on a roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue wouldn’t start until early 2021, and traffic wouldn’t be affected until peak season came to a close.

But it would proceed. And that still doesn't sit well with Longboat Key leaders.

In an email to Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch last week, FDOT Government Affairs & Communications Manager Zachary Burch said the agency has heard the complaints and calls for a delay but remains committed to building the large-scale traffic circle meant to smooth out traffic flow in concert with roundabouts to the north, and planned ones to the south.

“FDOT is also aware of the concerns some citizens have expressed regarding construction of the Gulfstream roundabout during or immediately after the completion of the Fruitville and 10th and 14th Street roundabouts,’’ Burch wrote.  “The Department greatly appreciates the patience that drivers, residents and business owners have shown while we have worked on the 10th and 14th Street roundabouts.  After discussing these concerns with you and the Town of Longboat Key, FDOT can commit that we will not begin construction of the Gulfstream roundabout project until after the completion of the roundabouts at Fruitville Road, 10th and 14th Street.  Furthermore, once construction of the Gulfstream project begins in early 2021, we will ensure construction activities will be limited to avoid lane closures during the 2021 peak season.’’

Motorists now drive on a temporary detour while passing the area of Fruitville Road on U.S. 41.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said FDOT officials have delivered the same message directly to Longboat Key.

"The point is, they are providing at least a season without a construction project," Town Manager Tom Harmer said. "But they made it clear to us, that they are full steam ahead with that roundabout."

Town commissioners on Monday discussed the possibility of persuading a Sarasota commissioner to add an agenda item to an upcoming meeting to discuss the roundabout scheduling. Failing that, commissioners said they would consider showing up to speak in a public-comment setting. "We should continue to press for that,'' Commissioner Jack Daly said.

They also discussed researching the basis of a lawsuit against Sarasota. Town Attorney Maggie Mooney reminded the commissioners that such a proceeding triggers a series of state-mandated pre-trial meetings, mediation and other alternatives. 

"Do we want to consider that or consider a threat of that and start doing research,'' Commissioner Ken Schneier said. 

Commissioner Mike Haycock said the town should congratulate itself over some of the concessions from FDOT, but the path ahead remains open. "So now, it's kind of D-Day,'' he said. "I think we get one last shot. to see if we can either delay it by convincing three commissioners in Sarasota or whether we want to consider some sort of legal action."

Mayor George Spoll said heading off the project "may be an impossible task, but we have to show how serious this is to our citizens.''

Construction projects underway along U.S. 41  and on the Ringling Causeway have been a focal point of angst among barrier island residents and officials this season. Traffic back ups on the Ringling Causeway have been regularly taking place, leading to a flurry of emails and phone calls back and forth from Longboat Key Town Hall, St. Armands Circle, Sarasota City Hall and the Florida Department of Transportation and a call from Longboat Key’s mayor to rethink the whole project.

Changes were expected this week in traffic flow in and around the area of Fruitville Road and U.S. 41 as that roundabout project entered a new phase.

Traffic barrels blocking access to the third turn lane of Gulfstream Avenue at U.S. 41 on Sarasota’s bayfront were expected to be gone this week as a component of several other changes taking place on that project, which is expected to wrap up in fall 2020.

Additionally, these other traffic-flow changes took place earlier this week:

  • Westbound Fruitville Road closed at Cocoanut Avenue on Monday.  A detour to U.S. 41 will take drivers north on Lemon Avenue to 10th Street, then west to U.S. 41. An alternative for drivers heading to the barrier islands is Ringling Boulevard to U.S. 41.
  • Through traffic in both directions on U.S. 41 shifted to a temporary roadway near Fruitville Road on Monday, March 2.
  • Work will begin around the clock March 9 to demolish existing pavement in the area to continue construction on the roundabout.
  • Eastbound turns to Fruitville Road from northbound U.S. 41 will be unobstructed. Eastbound turns from southbound U.S. 41 will remain off-limits through the duration of the work. The traffic light at that intersection will also be removed as the roundabout work proceeds, keeping traffic moving.
  • Sarasota officials also said they would look at recalibrating the HAWK pedestrian crossing near First Street with the goal of reducing delays.

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