The MPO Board is planning to meet and approve the plan at its Oct. 26 meeting.
For years, Longboat Key town commissioners have tried working with area leaders on mainland-sourced road projects that impact barrier island traffic.
During Monday afternoon’s workshop meeting, town commissioners discussed how they planned to respond ahead of next week’s vote on the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s “Transform 2045” long-range transportation plan.
Town Manager Tom Harmer mentioned how the current 2045 plan didn’t initially reference the town’s work to develop a Complete Streets Corridor Plan for Gulf of Mexico Drive or efforts to advance Country Club Shores turn lane improvements.
“We have reached out to the MPO staff and requested that they add a reference to that initiative to the Long Range Transportation Plan,” Harmer wrote in an email to commissioners. “We believe that will not only recognize the initiative but also serve as a placeholder for future FDOT/MPO funding.”
Town Commissioner Jack Daly serves as Longboat Key’s elected official on the MPO Board. He said most of the MPO process is dominated by larger municipalities’ needs rather than those of Longboat Key or other barrier islands.
“We’ve been quite successful in getting a number of the priorities of the barrier islands and particularly those emanating from the Barrier Island Traffic Study here that has been finalized six months ago,” Daly said. “The challenge we continually have is to maintain a focus as best we can on the barrier-island impact, primarily not exclusively, with respect to traffic-mediation approaches and recommendations.”
Daly said the MPO has tried to implement some of the recommendations from the BITS study.
The MPO is required to put together a 25-year long-range plan that gets updated every five years. Town documents show the plan costs $2 billion with a $300 million allocated to multi-model beach access corridors. The financial projections are based on federal, state and local historic information.
Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman mentioned plans to replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the Cortez Bridge, the Longboat Pass Bridge and the Coon Key Bridge. There are also plans to make changes to the Ringling Bridge, which could include a lane specifically used for shuttle or transit service in the future.
“The only way you’re going to get people to utilize more transit is there’s got to be some direct benefit of using transit as opposed to being in one’s own vehicle,” Brownman said. “If the bus has to sit in the same queue as everybody else, nobody’s going to use it or very few as they do today.”
The city of Sarasota, the Florida Department of Transportation and Sarasota County Area Transit are continuing to have conversations about the possibility of adding a bus or trolley on the shoulder of the Ringling Bridge. The proposed route would take riders to and from downtown Sarasota to St. Armands Circle.
The Sarasota County Commission is set to discuss potential changes to public transit on Wednesday afternoon.
“We keep emphasizing the strong desire for a unified approach to public transit on the island and we thought it would be good for the commission to weigh in and send them a formal request in that manner before their meeting on the 21st,” Harmer said.
On Monday, Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier sent a letter to Sarasota County Chair Michael Moran and county commissioners about the town's desire for unified transit. Longboat Key is in both Sarasota and Manatee counties.
“The town respectfully requests continued coordination between SCAT and MCAT on a single solution for Longboat Key,” Schneier wrote.
The town is currently served by the two transit agencies, which Schneier said provides “two different levels of service.”
District 1 Commissioner Sherry Dominick expressed her doubts about whether Longboat Key residents would utilize the proposed shuttle service between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle.
“The reality is, given the age demographic, it's hard to imagine too many Longboaters clambering on the bus and going to town,” Dominick said. “It's possible, but probably not likely for Longboat.”
Brownman said utilizing the shoulder on the Ringling Bridge is still questionable because of the need to separate the proposed shuttle from bicyclists or pedestrians.
“What the city of Sarasota is going for is not necessarily to get Longboat Key users to use it,” Brownman said. “They want to get as many of their folks that are traveling from downtown to St. Armands to use it, get those cars off the road and it makes it easier for say Longboat Key drivers or Lido drivers to get through the queue.”
Brownman said he thinks the shuttle would have to extend to Longboat Key for town residents to use it.
“Right now [there are] so many physical constraints to that,” Brownman said. “That's not actually part of the plan to create some kind of bypass all the way from Longboat Key to downtown.”
The MPO’s 2045 plan includes three projects in Longboat Key: a roundabout at Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive, a roundabout at Longboat Club Road and GMD and a multi-use trail on the entire west side of GMD.
Brownman said the trail could be designed to help with stormwater and flood management. GMD often sees flooding on the north-end between Jessmyth Way and Sandhamn Place.
In Manatee County, there are intersection improvements planned at Cortez Road and 75th Street.
“The reason that’s important is because we in the town, those coming on and off the island on the north end, do feel the effects of what happens all the way out even to 75th Street from time, particularly in the heaviest parts of the season,” Brownman said.
Daly reiterated Brownman’s points about the importance of improving north-end traffic flow near the Cortez Bridge.
“When we started this process, FDOT was of the view that nothing could be done at that intersection,” Daly said. “That’s one of the most important intersections with respect on the northern end of Longboat Key that there is.”
Brownman mentioned how the MPO is planning on a resiliency study in fiscal years 2021-2022 to assess storm surge and sea-level risk. The potential investment would cost $75 million over 20 years.
“They did point out that the barrier islands are obviously being vulnerable to storm surge and sea-level rise that this may be a funding opportunity for some of our projects as well if we can incorporate some resiliency element to it,” Brownman said.
Oct. 25 marks the last day the public can comment on the MPO's plan. The MPO Board is planning to meet and approve the plan at its 9:30 a.m. meeting on Oct. 26.
The town will also have an opportunity to speak during the MPO’s virtual safety policy panel on Nov. 16. The meeting will have elected officials from nearby municipalities to discuss the Vision Zero and Complete Streets Corridor Plan.
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