The Florida Department of Transportation has compiled a list of at least 71 potential solutions to midwinter traffic problems on Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Lido Key and Bird Key.
State officials have developed a list of potential solutions to barrier island traffic problems as they prepare to enter a final phase of a study focused on how to mitigate backups on Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Lido Key and Bird Key.
The Florida Department of Transportation has identified at least 71 potential solutions to seasonal traffic that snarls barrier island roads from January to April each year. Those solutions are delineated between short-, medium- and long-term fixes ranging in cost between several thousand dollars to tens of millions. The proposals are as simple as directing pedestrians to proper crossing sites and as complex as an aerial skyway system that would transport passengers from the mainland to St. Armands Circle.
Of the proposals, 21 have been prioritized by the Sarasota and Manatee County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group responsible for distributing federal funding for transportation projects. The MPO also helped initiate and fund the barrier island traffic study, said Strategic Planning Manager Leigh Holt.
“We’ve got a great start on things that are going to make a difference,” Holt said.
The MPO list of priorities include, among other suggestions, modifying bridges to allow for more capacity and bus-on-shoulder lanes, roundabouts at the north and south end of Longboat Key and elevated walkways at U.S. 41 intersections in Sarasota.
The communities involved in the study set the priorities for the MPO, Holt said.
“Our role will be to help advance those things and get the money they need to implement them,” Holt said. “There’s nothing worse than a study being done and put on the shelf.”
The goal of the study is not to implement all of the proposed solutions or find one solution that fixes everything.
The idea is to find a collection that will help traffic move smoothly and safely, said FDOT District 1 Communications Manager Zac Burch.
The MPO’s list of priorities furthers the work done by FDOT to get a refined list of projects to seek funding in the coming year.
“There’s not a lot of money to go around,” Holt said. “It’s not likely that all of them will be funded, but we’re hoping some of them will be funded.”
While many of the proposed improvements may happen off Longboat Key, the objective of the study is to get the municipalities working together to recognize the interconnectivity of traffic problems on the barrier islands.
Longboat leaders have long said many of the town’s traffic problems originate miles away, either on St. Armands Circle, mainland bottlenecks in downtown Sarasota or the Cortez area or to the north in neighboring beach communities.
In March, FDOT added an extra left-turn lane onto westbound Gulfstream Avenue at U.S. 41. Barrier island residents asked the city of Sarasota to sign off on that change last August, hoping to move more cars through a congested intersection during season.
Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin expressed some skepticism about the proposal, but the Sarasota City Commission agreed with the residents, voting unanimously to implement the change. Anecdotally, island residents believe it’s helping.
Longboat Key Town Commissioner Jack Daly said the difficulty with bringing together disparate political entities is mustering the will and fostering compromise between municipalities with “competing interests.”
Sarasota, for example, has focused more on pedestrian transit while Longboat Key is more concerned about vehicle traffic, Daly said.
The trouble for Longboat, Daly said, is that most of the recommendations for traffic improvements are located off the Key. But it wasn’t a problem for him until he learned that FDOT has postured itself as a planner rather than implementer, Daly said.
“I’d be hopeful that we can convince FDOT to take the leadership to push those quick fixes through so we can see some real results of the study come the end of December and January of next year,” Daly said.