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Longboat Key Monday, May 31, 2021 1 month ago

Footbridge denied on Sarasota's bayfront

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Crosswalk to close while construction progresses.
by: Mark Bergin and David Conway

Town leaders with an eye on mainland traffic issues say they wish a footbridge on Sarasota's bayfront could have worked out but concede there will likely be future opportunities to demonstrate the potential of such a structure. 

Florida Department of Transportation was initially working with Sarasota and Longboat Key on plans for a temporary pedestrian bridge over U.S. 41 while traffic circle construction was ongoing at Gulfstream Avenue.

 On May 17, however, FDOT District 1 Secretary L.K. Nandam emailed Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown and Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer to inform them the state agency determined the bridge was not feasible. The barrier island town hoped such a pedestrian overpass would serve as a prototype to eventually replace surface pedestrian crossings with the goal of keeping traffic moving. 

Nandam cited longer-than-expected construction time and costs in excess of three times the initial estimate as reasons the bridge was scrapped.

“We all came to the conclusion that this would not be worth it,” Brown said.

Jack Daly, who for years was the town’s representative on transportation matters, said he hoped future traffic circle projects along the bayfront could lend themselves to easier construction of pedestrian overpasses. He said the notion of traffic stopping and starting at on-demand pedestrian signals often defeats the purpose of a traffic circle, which is designed to keep traffic flowing.

Backups at the critical junction of the John Ringling Causeway and Tamiami Trail can commonly extend over the bridge and into St. Armands Circle or beyond, especially during the winter season.

“That intersection may not be the best prototype in any event,” Daly said of the rejected pedestrian overpass at U.S. 41 and First Street. “I’m thinking there’s a series of roundabouts that are planned, and looking ahead of it, both on Main Street and Ringling Boulevard. Either one of those intersections, soon to be roundabouts, I think would probably be a better, not only prototype but a permanent location where you have a lot more pedestrian traffic probably from downtown to Marina Jacks.”

Even without the pedestrian bridge, Brown encouraged the state agency to explore the deactivation of the signalized crosswalk at First Street and adjustments to the timing of other pedestrian-activated signals in the area. In addition to accessibility concerns during road construction, Brown suggested the pedestrian signal was linked to traffic back-ups along U.S. 41.

“I was greatly disappointed,” Longboat Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said. “We thought that was a commitment that the city and the state had made to us, and so we’re very disappointed that it’s not going in.”

Preliminary construction on the Gulfstream roundabout began in March, and the first full phase is scheduled to start in August, according to the FDOT website. Brown said the city may revisit the status of the signalized crosswalk on First Street as seasonal activity picks up.

“We may have to take a look at what we do in the October-November-December-January time frame,” Brown said.

In the meantime, as work progresses the First Street crosswalk and one to the south at Gulfstream will close for the remainder of the year.

The roundabout project includes plans to improve the roadway on U.S. 41 between Gulfstream and Fruitville Road, where another roundabout opened last year.   Brown referred to the roadwork as a “gap project,” designed to adjust the elevation of the street to address flooding issues that occur in the area of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.

“Thinking about it now a little bit retrospectively here, a trial with those problems might not have been a good prototype for the permanent one,” Daly said. “I’m disappointed, but I understand the reasons why, at least during the construction period, a trial might not have been a good prototype even if it had gone forward.”

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