The majority of the Longboat Key Town Commission is willing to fight the city of Sarasota’s proposed five roundabouts along U.S. 41 near the bayfront, even if it has to dispute its consultant’s findings dollar for dollar.
At the Thursday, June 18 regular workshop, four of the six commissioners in attendance gave Town Manager Bruce St. Denis permission to spend up to $25,000 in commission contingency funds to hire a traffic consultant.
The commission hopes that a study done by its own consultant could dispute claims by Trans Associates, the Tampa-based consulting firm hired by the city, that roundabouts will work well in that area.
The commission gave St. Denis the direction after discovering that the city agreed to design and build a test roundabout at U.S. 41 and 10th Street to see how drivers react to it.
Sarasota City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner suggested the test roundabout after hearing that Phase A of the project would take up to three years and would consist mainly of design work, while Phase B (the design and construction of all of the roundabouts) would take up to 20 years.
But the Town Commission is worried about the review and approval timeline of the Florida Department of Transportation, which has already received the city’s modeling computer program for its review of the proposed roundabouts.
“Now that they are moving ahead, timing is of the essence,” said Commissioner George Spoll. “The clock is running on timely input.”
Mayor Lee Rothenberg agreed.
“Of course, the city’s consultant has a study that shows traffic flow is just peachy dandy,” Rothenberg said. “But that’s the charge and goal of the consultants.”
Commissioner Hal Lenobel, though, worried that the decision could come back to haunt the town.
“What if the traffic consultant we hire agrees with the city’s consultant?” Lenobel asked. “I am reticent to gamble taxpayer money on a decision I may not have any influence over.”
Commissioner Gene Jaleski, who is trying to get town staff to reduce the amount of money spent on consultant fees, was upset with the commission’s direction.
“I don’t approve of this at all,” Jaleski said.
Town Attorney David Persson, however, told the commission that hiring a traffic consultant to make an evaluation and place comments in the public record regarding the proposal could make a positive impact on the town’s roundabout defense.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, who originally estimated the consultant would cost $50,000, reduced his dollar amount to $25,000.
“In order to be credible, you have to evaluate what’s in the record,” St. Denis said. “All those things will be costly if we dispute their proposal.”
The Sarasota City Commission will discuss the test roundabout at a future connectivity public hearing that is yet to be scheduled. And the design and construction of the test roundabout could take months to prepare before an official submittal is made to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Rothenberg also expressed his opinion that the state agency will hold firm on its past opinion that roundabouts will not work better than a signalized traffic intersection in that area.
“But we would still be wise to let our opinions known about this,” Rothenberg said.
Vice Mayor Robert Siekmann agreed.
“Any test circle will be judged successful by the city,” Siekmann said. “I think we have to fight the good fight if it’s a bad thing for this island.”
The Town Commission can approve the money transfer at a special meeting Tuesday, June 30 or at its Monday, July 6 regular meeting.