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Opinion
Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 3 months ago

He should be fired

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FDOT is not the one to blame for the traffic backups on the Ringling Causeway. The city is. It controls the timing of the projects.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, a Sarasota County Fire Department EMS vehicle and fire truck were dispatched from the Station 3 firehouse on North Adams Drive, next to St. Armands Circle.

Eastbound traffic was at a standstill on the John Ringling Causeway from the Gulfstream/U.S. 41 intersection on the mainland all the way to St. Armands Circle.

You could see the fire truck driver — with the truck’s lights blinking and siren ringing — trying to figure out how to maneuver and weave through the logjam. It was barely clocking 10 mph.

Normally, according to Google Maps, the drive from St. Armands Circle to Sarasota Memorial Hospital at normal speed takes 12 minutes. Even less when an ambulance is barreling unimpeded.

Monday evening, because of the traffic, it took 23 minutes.

Twice as long. More than twice as long for a typical emergency vehicle.

Because of federal privacy laws, the Sarasota County Fire Department declined to disclose the nature of the transport and  the patient’s health.

But the fact a 12-minute drive took more than twice as long says it all.   

And by now, you no doubt have heard or read other stories of the consequences of the backups every day on the John Ringling Causeway — caregivers not making it to their patients, caregivers giving up their jobs or service companies declining to do business on the barrier islands because of the traffic.

But as Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin sees it, hey, c’mon, be patient. Listen to podcasts. Enjoy the view from atop the Ringling Bridge.

City directly responsible

We did some reporting on how all of these roundabout and John Ringling Causeway tree removal and sidewalk installation projects occur when they do and who’s responsible for the traffic management.

The responsibility for it all points directly at Sarasota City Hall.

As told to us, here is how it works:

It starts with the city of Sarasota. The city made the decisions that it wanted roundabouts on U.S. 41 at 14th and 10th streets, the Fruitville Road intersection and the Gulfstream intersection.

U.S. 41 falls under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Transportation. So when local  governments seek improvements, there is a long process for FDOT to secure funding.

Once the funding is appropriated, the local municipality prioritizes for FDOT when the projects are to be done.

FDOT is a partner in these projects; it is not the dictator. FDOT typically contracts the actual work and real-time management of lane closures and signage during the project. FDOT also contributes to communication with information on its website.

But the city has control over the timing.

In the case of the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road — the primary source of the daily four-hour backups — the city of Sarasota has had total control of the timing. That project is  exclusively between the city and the Quay’s developer; FDOT is not involved.

Granted, it’s a yearlong project, but, to be blunt, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin, the executive in charge of all city operations, is responsible for scheduling that work and did nothing to lessen its effects at the height of season.

Likewise, the sidewalk and landscaping projects along John Ringling Causeway. The city controlled their start.

 

Always unresponsive

On Monday, Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, pleaded again to city officials for relief (see box, “Killing the Golden Goose”). She told us Tuesday she heard from Barwin, who only now is starting to organize meetings with affected parties.

It’s worth noting Barwin didn’t respond until after Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch experienced the traffic first-hand and recently was inundated with letters and phone calls.

Barwin’s unresponsiveness is not new. Former Longboat Key commissioners and others all say the same thing about their dealings with Barwin: unresponsive.

If Barwin cared about the effects of these projects on the residents of Longboat Key and the other barrier islands, on the St. Armands Circle businesses or the effects on the city’s visitors, the situation would not be the crisis that it is.

Judging from the city’s lack of response to ameliorate the daily backups, Barwin appears indifferent to regional relationships. Although he might think Longboat Key residents are not his constituents, he forgets they are the constituents and funders of nearly everything in the city — the not-for-profit human-services providers, the arts, restaurants and retailers, and colleges. Corrigan’s store owner is right: He’s killing the “golden goose.”

 

In a crisis, you respond

When there’s a crisis, you respond with action. Longboat Key resident Bob Gault compared the traffic crisis to what is done when communities host a Super Bowl or deal with a hurricane.

They go into action 24/7 to keep life and services functioning as close to normal as possible. They don’t just listen to podcasts.

The backups on John Ringling Causeway have been a daily occurrence for three months. Visible to everyone. Depriving emergency vehicles and their patients of precious minutes to medical attention.

And what has City Manager Tom Barwin done? Nothing that anyone can see. He should be fired.

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