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Sarasota Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 4 months ago

Roundabouts again top Sarasota's roads wish list

Brody pushes for reordered list featuring Legacy Trail additions.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

City commissioners this week voted to accept a transportation-priority list that features U.S. 41 roundabouts as two of the top three projects submitted to the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization for potential funding.

But the vote was not unanimous.

Saying the city’s residents were weary of roundabout construction, Commissioner Hagen Brody unsuccessfully pushed for a different approach. Still, the commission voted 4-1 to stick with the staff's proposal.

“I don’t go out and hear ‘When’s that roundabout at Myrtle and Martin Luther King happening?'" he said.

The city, along with others in Sarasota and Manatee counties, annually submits lists of preferred projects to the MPO to help the regional agency decide how to dole out state and federal money. The agency scores projects and assembles a working list of projects awaiting money for feasibility studies, design and engineering and, ultimately, construction.

Sarasota in 2021 and again in 2022 packaged roundabout projects at U.S. 41 and Ringling Boulevard, Main Street, Myrtle Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into the top two positions. In 2022, No. 3 is a project to improve cycling and pedestrian access along U.S. 41 from 14th Street north to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which includes the replacement of the Whitaker Bayou Bridge.

Acknowledging that typically the top three options get the most attention from the MPO, city transportation planner Alvimarie Corales and Ryan Chapdelain, the general manager of the city's Planning Department, said progress on the roundabouts is necessary to end up with a smoother flow of traffic along the bayfront and to complement the continuing switch from standard intersections to roundabouts.

Brody said he favored moving up to the top three such projects as further extension of the Legacy Trail from Fruitville Road to University Parkway along an existing rail route and the connection of the trail to Bobby Jones, where a nature park is proposed alongside a revamped 18-hole golf course. He also advocated for streetscape projects, such as a proposed Main Street renovation and a project on St. Armands Circle.

City Manager Marlon Brown said the city could move ahead with both streetscape projects with money from its own capital improvement budget. About $1.8 million would get both accomplished, he said.

The Coon Key Bridge just east of St. Armands Circle, which was third on the city’s list in 2021, fell to sixth this year. City officials acknowledged it was the Florida Department of Transportation’s responsibility to widen the span to allow for better pedestrian and cycling access.

Fourth and fifth in the list, respectively, were raised crosswalks in St. Armands Circle to improve pedestrian safety and prompt drivers to slow their approaches to crosswalks and the Main Street project, that would convert to parallel parking, widen sidewalks and add more trees.

Commissioner Liz Alpert urged commissioners to stick with the staff’s recommendations that prioritized the roundabout work.

“Once you get to the construction, it’s gone through years of the process to get to that point, and a lot of money has been expended to get there," she said. I feel comfortable with the list that they put together. Personally, I think the roundabouts are important that they need to be continued in order to make the whole roundabout system on U.S. 41 work."

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