After some St. Armands merchants expressed concern about the timing of the project, the city is attempting to accelerate a portion of the construction.
When members of the St. Armands Circle Association learned the city of Sarasota had scheduled some lane closures on John Ringling Causeway during one of the busiest parts of the year, the merchants group was worried about the impact it could have on the commercial district.
In response to those concerns, the city has compressed a portion of its schedule for the Coon Key Multi-Use Recreational Trail project. The city intends to complete the work requiring lane closures by early December, which it hopes will mitigate the effects of construction on St. Armands Circle.
The city is partnering with the Florida Department of Transportation to build the Coon Key MURT, a 10-foot-wide trail between the Circle and the Coon Key Bridge. Construction is scheduled to begin this week.
“The trail will provide an improved, safer multi-modal transportation option for pedestrians and bicyclists that connects the barrier islands with downtown and the future extension of the Legacy Trail,” the city announced in a release.
The first phase of the project involves the removal of 223 Australian pine trees from the roadway. Australian pines are an invasive species and can be easily knocked over in a storm, two factors that motivated the decision to take out the trees. The city will replace the pines with 246 native trees of various species.
During the removal of the pines, vehicular traffic will be reduced to one lane on the side of John Ringling Causeway where workers are present. The city initially expected this work to continue into early 2020 — a cause for alarm among St. Armands merchants, worried about how traffic impediments might affect business during season.
“The time to be closing lanes is not from October through April,” said Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association.
Barbara Pugliese, the owner of Just/Because on Boulevard of the Presidents, said the prospect of lane closures was concerning for St. Armands businesses because the area has already dealt with a series of changes and challenges during the past year. She referenced the negative effects of red tide, the implementation of on-street paid parking and the installation of temporary speed humps as reasons businesses were hoping for a break from disruption.
“To try to attempt this at all when we’re trying to gear up is another sort of thorn in our side here,” Pugliese said. “We’re having enough of a hard time.”
Corrigan said she was happy to hear the city was responding to merchants’ concerns and that St. Armands stakeholders were fully supportive of the MURT project.
“Those Australian pines need to come down,” Corrigan said. “During Irma, that’s what went down and took the power down.”
The $1.89 million project is expected to take 11 months for full completion. The city said construction of the trail after the trees are removed is not expected to significantly affect traffic.