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East County Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 6 months ago

Manatee roundabout project goes forward at Mote Ranch despite neighborhood concerns

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Manatee County officials say a roundabout is essential at Honore Avenue and Old Farm Road.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

When it comes to the roundabout planned for the intersection of Honore Avenue and Old Farm Road in the Mote Ranch neighborhood, both Ogden Clark and Lorelei Lindenaux-Balazs have a vision.

Both say what happens in the future at the intersection could be a model for similar projects in the future.

Those visions of a new model, however, don't align.

Clark is a strategic affairs manager for Manatee County and he knows that county residents always are concerned when a roundabout is planned to be constructed in or near their neighborhoods. Manatee County was presented a petition signed by 235 of the 791 Mote Ranch homeowners saying they were worried about the plans for a roundabout at Honore Avenue and Old Farm Road.

Read more: Roundabouts again top Sarasota's roads wish list

"You never can talk to everyone in a neighborhood," Clark said. "So we tried to go above and beyond with this."

Clark and Manatee County Public Works Director Chad Butzow met with Mote Ranch residents to discuss the plans and to address their concerns. Mote Ranch had formed a roundabout committee to represent the sentiments and concerns of the community. Clark said the public works representatives understood that diagrams and renderings might be hard to understand, so they drew outlines of the roundabout boundaries at the site in chalk.

"This isn't the only roundabout we are doing," Clark said. "So we were trying to set a precedent."

John Jackson, who is president of the Mote Ranch Homeowners Association, said county officials were cordial and took the time to address their concerns.

Lindenaux-Balazs said it was nice the county officials took the time to outline the project for them, but her idea of a model for the future was quite different than the county's idea.

Read more: 2022 construction projects take shape in Lakewood Ranch

"I don't think they are considering this community," she said of Manatee County. "I understand this neighborhood is growing. But why can't this neighborhood be a model that coexists with nature, with bikers, with walkers, and with people who are pushing strollers?"

She said the current four-way stop or a traffic signal would be more compatible with the neighborhood and nature.

Lindenaux-Balazs, a member of the roundabout committee, lives at the corner of Honore Avenue and Gold Rush Lane. Her home is just east of the intersection and she sees the backup at rush hour times.

But she's OK with the backup a couple of times a day as opposing to having a steady stream of flowing traffic all the time that she and other fellow residents believe will make the Honore Avenue and Old Farm Road intersection more dangerous. On the north side of that intersection is Mote Ranch's Recreation Center, where Old Farm Road dead ends. Many of the residents cross that intersection by foot or bicycle.

This big oak tree in front of the Mote Ranch Recreation Center will be cut down to make room for a roundabout. (Photo by Jay Heater)

"I've lived here since 2001 and I always knew this would eventually be four lanes," she said of that section of Honore Avenue. "So they are going to spend millions on a roundabout that they are going to destroy?"

Susan Byron, a Mote Ranch resident and roundabout committee member, said she objects to the start of construction before Manatee County has done adequate traffic and accident studies at the intersection.

"(Manatee County officials) told us their traffic team doesn't have the resources (to do a traffic study)," said Byron, an attorney. "I go through this intersection every day and I don't think of it as a problem. There has been one accident at this intersection that I have seen in the last six years and that happened because of a police chase. For the volume of vehicles that goes through there, it serves its purpose."

Read more: Lakewood Ranch Preparatory Academy projected to be built by mid-July

Byron said the residents have several concerns about a roundabout, which include being able to cross the intersection safely.

She said the signage needed in the roundabout, which includes four beacon signals on crosswalks, will pollute the area which now maintains its natural beauty despite the roads. She said while the county outlined the borders of the roundabout, she still hasn't seen what the final medians will look like. 

She said a huge oak tree to the north of the intersection and in front of the recreation center will need to be cut down as will trees on the south side in the Old Farm Road median. 

Byron said homes on the southwest side of the intersection are likely to be affected by the lighting necessary at the intersection.

Clark said the county adds filters to lighting and makes sure the lights point away from homes. He said the main concern expressed by Mote Ranch homeowners has been safety crossing the intersection and that the county's main focus is safety.

"Right now, there is no place to stop (walking) in the middle of the intersection," Clark said. "The roundabout will have an island refuge where you can stop if needed."

He said the roundabout will provide better line of sight than with a four-way stop. He said the backup at peak traffic times causes blind spots on Honore Avenue.

Clark said the roundabout plans are "100% finished" and were submitted in late December and are being reviewed. The county will hire a construction firm to oversee the $1.24 million project and a groundbreaking is expected in April. He said the roundabout should take 6-9 months to build.

As far as Honore Avenue becoming four lanes in the future at that site, Clark said nothing is on the county's Capital Improvement Plan.

The median to the right on Old Farm Road will lose the tree and all the flowers when a roundabout is constructed. (Photo courtesy of Manatee County)

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said has received complaints about speeding on that section of Honore Avenue in the past and about drivers running through the four-way stop. She said the traffic circle will both slow down traffic (she said the speed limit will be reducing coming into the traffic circle) and keep the traffic flowing.

Redistricting has moved Mote Ranch out of Baugh's district. The area now will be represented by Commissioner Misty Servia.

Byron and Lindenaux said they feel somewhat helpless to slow down the project. They said Jackson has resigned himself to the fact the roundabout is coming and that opposition is futile.

Jackson said, indeed, the county "is going to do what the county is going to do."

He said the four-way stop isn't the best way to control traffic at that intersection, but he was hoping the county would consider a synchronized signal light that would allow traffic on Honore Avenue to keep moving while letting the far fewer cars on Old Farm Road enter the intersection in a timely manner.

"I don't know that we've had an impact on what the county is doing or not," he said. "My background is n engineering so I realize the bridge (on Honore Avenue just east of the intersection), doesn't allow for the (synchronized signal light) solution because they have no room to put in a turn lane.

"We've talked to them about helping us to pay for some of the landscaping. We will see."

 

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