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Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 3 months ago

Longboat sets plan to keep watch on traffic effects

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Advocacy and teamwork also stressed in town proposal for traffic mitigation.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Town leaders have formulated a package of goals and steps for the next two months to better understand and quantify the effects of construction projects and other events on island traffic and communicate with neighboring communities about those effects.

The ideas, presented to town commissioners on Tuesday, focus largely on defining and measuring how traffic affects life on Longboat Key, communicating about what projects or events are in the pipeline and advocating for alternative scheduling of projects, such as off-season or off-peak travel hours.

Traffic complaints have spiked this season, especially after the closure of one of three left turn lanes from Gulfstream Avenue to U.S. 41 in mainland Sarasota. The temporary closure, which was to end this week but has been put off until early March, was made necessary by construction of a roundabout several blocks to the north at Fruitville Road.

The third turn lane had been hailed as a step forward in smoothing out seasonal traffic backups when it was approved in 2017. With its closure, though, daily traffic backups over the Ringling Bridge to St. Armands Circle and beyond have vexed drivers. Town officials are also concerned about the launch of a roundabout project planned for later this year at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream, not only for its effects during construction but also in its ability to keep traffic flowing better than existing roadways when complete.

Longboat officials have drafted a letter to Sarasota officials asking officially to delay the U.S. 41 and Gulfstream roundabout project and accelerate the implementation of crossing guards in St. Armands Circle. 

“Our community needs a reprieve from all of this construction,” wrote Diana Corrigan, the executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, saying the issue is the worst she’s seen in 21 years. “I am asking that we please postpone the construction of the roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41 once the roundabout at Fruitville and U.S. 41 is completed.”

Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch questioned the current calendar for construction and more recently raised issues with the bigger roundabout’s long-term efficiency. “This is a linchpin intersection in the city of Sarasota and for our region. North to south. East to west,” she wrote in an email. “It is essential that it is a high-functioning intersection for both car traffic and pedestrians. Why spend $25 million on a roundabout for a projected average of 11-35% traffic congestion relief, which will last for only four years? I think we can do much better or at least have an updated discussion.”

Longboat Key commissioners earlier this month sought action from its staff and instructed them to develop a mitigation strategy.

In that strategy, Town Manager Tom Harmer set forth five goals:

  • Utilize available traffic data to measure traffic conditions and related impacts from projects or changes in traffic patterns;
  • Institutionalize a process through which the town receives notification by local governments and Florida Department of Transportation during the maintenance of traffic planning stage of related construction projects; 
  • Institutionalize a process for notification of special or annual events that might impact traffic ingress/egress along the barrier island-to-mainland corridor;
  • Advocate for off-season scheduling for construction or maintenance projects, night working hours and reducing overlap of projects, etc.; and
  • Seek collaboration and support from other affected communities.

Among the steps the town hopes to take:

  • Inventory construction projects that might affect traffic on Longboat Key;
  • Inventory projects to come;
  • Request agencies to include Longboat Key in notification checklists;
  • Identify traffic data sources and associated costs/resources to analyze traffic conditions;
  • Meet with representatives from Lido Key, St. Armands Key and Bird Key to discuss advocacy;
  • Meet with FDOT and city of Sarasota to discuss projects and projected schedule for future roundabout projects;
  • Meet with representatives from Bradenton Beach and Manatee County to discuss current and planned projects and schedules;
  • Continue participation in Metropolitan Planning Organization to advocate for implementation of Barrier Island improvements; and
  • Continue participation in MPO Barrier Island Traffic Study Technical Committee to monitor and review efforts to implement BITS recommendations.

Public Works Director Isaac Brownman told the commission on Tuesday the town has begun to research equipment that would keep track of traffic counts, perhaps on the north, central and south portions of the island. 

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