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Opinion
Sarasota Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2015 6 years ago

Forget the Legacy Trail, we need another bridge

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Forget the Legacy Trail, we need another bridge

It’s not a joke.  No kidding.

You know how everyone is talking about it — traffic, traffic, traffic.

And then they launch into what’s coming — along the bayfront and U.S. 41  near downtown Sarasota.

“It’s going to be a disaster. Not just downtown.”

That’s what you hear everyone say.

With all of the development underway and planned near U.S. 41 and the John Ringling Causeway, plus the future expansion of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, it’s difficult to imagine a solution without building another bridge — a bridge that bypasses St. Armands Circle and connects Longboat Key and the mainland.

Maybe that design in the photo above — the pedestrian Peace Bridge in Calgary — can be considered April Fools-ish for Sarasota. Although, it would be a signature piece of creativity. After all, we say we’re Florida’s cultural capital, so why not be so in architecture as well?

The idea of a bridge directly to Longboat Key from Sarasota is not new. There were public meetings about it a quarter century ago. But even then, there were few who believed it could ever be achieved. The obstacles were too great:

• The cost. Given the backlog of needed transportation construction throughout Florida, the likelihood of catapulting a $70 million bridge to the top of  the priority list of the Florida Department of Transportation is slim to none. And you can be sure state lawmakers, the governor and state transportation officials would not be eager to earmark $70 million or more for a bridge to the 34228 zip code. Longboaters would have to contribute a lot more money to political campaign funds to earn that kind of payback.

• The environment. Environmentalists likely would activate every war tactic in their battle manuals to prevent another concrete piling from being rammed into the bay bottom. You can envision their flooding the process with costly litigation that would delay and delay and ultimately put a dagger through the project’s heart.

• The end points. The matter of whose land on Longboat Key or on the mainland would be the terminal points for both ends of the bridge. If they involve private property, the eminent domain battles could add millions to the ultimate costs, not to mention create community animus. Those who were here for the decade it took to bring the John Ringling/Gil Waters Bridge to fruition still remember how that project divided so many.

REGIONAL CHALLENGE
This is a huge issue — managing and accommodating future traffic near the bayfront around Tamiami Trail at Fruitville Road and at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center; going into, around and out of St. Armands Circle; and going onto  and off Longboat Key on Gulf of Mexico Drive, particularly at the southern entrance to the Longboat Key Club and Resort. The issue also extends to the north end of Longboat Key at the Longboat Pass Bridge and into Bradenton Beach — at the Bradenton Beach Circle and at the intersection of Gulf Drive and the Cortez Bridge in Bradenton Beach.

This is a regional challenge, and somehow the elected leaders of all of the jurisdictions involved — Sarasota and Manatee counties, Longboat Key, the city of Sarasota, Bradenton Beach and the state — will need to marshal their brainpower into a coordinated effort.

To be sure, there are no easy or inexpensive choices. But choices must be made before it’s too late.

3 THOUGHT STARTERS
Call them April Foolish crazy, but here are a couple of thought starters:

1) A bridge to Longboat Key or an extended Legacy Trail?

 The Friends of Legacy Trail contacted 12,000 supporters supporters to persuade Sarasota County commissioners to extend the 10.6-mile scenic bike trail by 7.5 miles.

If money is a limited resource (news to many), perhaps this debate is appropriate: What’s more important — alleviating economy-choking traffic congestion or extending an overpriced bike trail for a few?

Yes, overpriced: The current Legacy Trail consumed $33.6 million of taxpayer money — half the cost of the Ringling Bridge. Shocking.

2) A new bridge from 12th Street in Sarasota to City Island.

Almost all of City Island is city-owned property. That could save millions of dollars in right-of-way acquisition costs.
3) A double-lane roundabout at the Gulf Drive-Cortez Bridge intersection.

Many people bristle at the talk of roundabouts. They immediately make people think of the cluster-fun that occurs at St. Armands Circle. But they do accomplish this: They keep traffic moving.

In theory, a big roundabout at this intersection seems practical. But the engineering, land acquisition and ultimate costs could be impractical.

Let the discussions begin — today.

WHAT’S YOUR SUGGESTION?
If you have suggestions for how to address the coming traffic tragedies on Longboat Key, at St. Armands Circle, at U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road and the John Ringling Causeway; and at the Gulf Drive-Cortez Bridge intersection, email your comments to Managing Editor Robin Hartill, [email protected].

 

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