Project unlikely to be stopped, officials say, but modifications might be possible, Longboat commissioners say.
Longboat Key leaders have long said traffic problems on the island, particularly during the season, have nothing to do with bottlenecks close to home but rather farther south and east – on St. Armands Key and the mainland.
To that end, town commissioners in a meeting last month approved spending up to $22,760 for a peer review on one of their frequently criticized projects — a roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Boulevard on Sarasota’s bayfront.
The money was derived from the commissioners’ contingency fund.
Acknowledging it was an uphill fight — with the roundabout project already in the design phase and scheduled for a construction start in 2019 — commissioners voted 6-1 to proceed, even if stopping the project was unlikely.
Commissioner Jim Brown voted against the idea.
“What it could do is advance design modifications or improvements,’’ on the design, said town Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.
Part of the peer review, which would be done by CDM Smith Traffic Engineering Services Division, could include an analysis of high-season traffic flowing through the intersection, which was recently modified to include three left turn lanes from Gulfstream to northbound U.S. 41.
“Let’s focus on the roundabout but also the current configuration, and let’s evaluate that,’’ said Commissioner Jack Daly. “It’s clear the train is leaving the station on the roundabout.’’
The chief complaint island residents and leaders have with the intersection and the plan to modify it is the potential for traffic backups, especially when the island population rises with tourists and winter residents. The real-world reticence of drivers to enter a high-traffic roundabout, prompting backups over the Ringling Bridge, has been a long-held concern of town leaders. Brown said in 2017: “Some people will sit and wait until they get a printed invitation” to make a turn. “If that happens at the intersection that we’re talking about, then we have a problem.’’
Brown’s objection to the peer review revolved around the cost and the long odds anything substantial could be done to make changes at this point.
“They started the design already,’’ he said. “It’s a done deal, and I think we’d be wasting taxpayers’ money.’’
Mayor George Spoll floated an idea of legal action to stop the project, something Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said she would research.
FDOT’s traffic projections for 2040 show the roundabout concept will improve the flow of traffic by 72% more than the increased-lane concept during peak morning traffic, and 14% more during afternoon traffic.
Traffic counts for the project were collected in season: November 2014, January 2015, February 2017 and March.