The Florida Department of Transportation is discussing a deal that would cede control of Midnight Pass Road and Siesta Drive to local governments.
Since 2010, Siesta Key residents have lobbied for various changes to the conditions on Midnight Pass Road, Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive. They’ve always run into the same challenge: getting state officials to cooperate.
The streets are all part of State Road 758, managed by the Florida Department of Transportation. Even if Siesta residents found a sympathetic ear at the county or city, the state has ultimate authority over the design of the road. FDOT wasn’t always an adversarial party, but it was another layer of bureaucracy to navigate, one further removed from the local level.
Now, the dynamics of the road could change. FDOT and Sarasota County are discussing a road swap that would give the county control of the majority of State Road 758 on Siesta Key. Some control could go to the city, as well, for the segment of Siesta Drive west of U.S. 41.
In return, the county would give FDOT control of a segment of River Road in Venice. This would allow the department to use state and federal funds to improve the street.
The two sides have been discussing a potential deal for about a month. FDOT spokesman Zach Burch said the reclassification of both roads made sense, particularly because State Road 758 is only two lanes throughout most of Siesta Key, cutting through residential areas.
“That road really doesn’t function as a state road,” Burch said “It really is more of a local road, when you think of it.”
Although the swap would give the county more authority over State Road 758 — and potentially accelerate River Road improvements — county staff is still evaluating the pros and cons of any agreement. Spencer Anderson, the county’s interim Public Works director, echoed Burch’s assessment of the differing characters of each road. Still, the county would no longer be able to rely on the state to maintain those segments of State Road 758.
“We’re investigating — how early could the DOT move to construction on River Road?” Anderson said. “What may or may not need to be done on 758?”
Anderson said the potential road swap could be ready for County Commission consideration within a month or two.
The Siesta Key Association has not discussed the effects of any changes to State Road 758. In the past, the group has asked for a lower speed limit on Midnight Pass Road. The state denied such a request in 2012, despite county support.
SKA board member Catherine Luckner said there were some obvious advantages to having local officials in charge of the road. However, she said there were also advantages to the state’s control. FDOT has installed speed feedback signs along the road, and the county might not be in a financial position to make improvements in which residents are interested.
On north Siesta Key, residents are more enthusiastic about the potential swap. Bay Island residents have started a campaign called Make Siesta Drive Safer, which is pushing for a lower speed limit and other design changes near Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue.
Those residents say they have a good working relationship with FDOT, but believe changes could be accomplished much quicker if they were working at a county and city level.
“It’s a little bit simpler, in our mind, dealing with two groups instead of three,” said Pat Wulf, Make Siesta Drive Safer co-chairman. “And the county’s a little bit closer.”
A portion of State Road 758 under consideration is within the city; the city’s border is north of Shell Road on Higel Avenue. As a result, the city is also monitoring the county-state negotiations, though city officials say they are not yet deeply participating in the discussion.
City engineer Alex DavisShaw said the city would use the same cost-benefit analysis that the county is undergoing, particularly as it pertains to maintaining a segment of road for which the city is not currently responsible.
“Is it something that’s easy for us to get to and maintain?” DavisShaw said. “Does it further the mobility needs and concerns of the city?”