Sarasota County will swap control of River Road and roads on Siesta Key with Florida Department of Transportation.
Sarasota County and the state are close to finalizing a trade that would give local control to some frequently traveled Siesta Key streets in exchange for state control of a North Port-area road.
Siesta Key residents hope the deal will bring long-sought responsiveness and safety improvements for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to the island
The swap between Sarasota County and the Florida Department of Transportation, which took more than two years to negotiate, involves River Road, which connects Interstate 75 to North Port, in exchange for stretches of Stickney Point Road, North Midnight Pass Road, Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive. Brian Rick, FDOT's District One spokesman, said he expected the deal to be finished before the new year.
Beyond a little more pavement (6.71 miles vs. 5.3), Siesta Key residents are happy to see the deal approach fruition.
“What we found was, the closer we got to the local government, the better off we were in terms of what we might be able to do to,” said Pat Wulf, a resident of the Bay Isle area of Siesta Key. “So we’ve been anxiously pushing for this swap the entire time.”
Before the swap officially happens, FDOT will provide $359,137 for pavement, sign and striping improvements to the roughly 90-degree bend where Siesta Drive meets Higel Avenue. County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson said that is expected to improve visibility and driver awareness.
After the swap, however, the county will be responsible for its portion of Stickney Point Road, including traffic stripes, paving, sweeping and litter pickup. The state will remain responsible for two bascule bridges at the north and south ends of Siesta Key.
FDOT will assume responsibility of River Road in spring 2020 and maintenance responsibility in spring 2021; the county will assume responsibility of the Siesta roads in fall 2020 and maintenance responsibility in spring 2021.
Anderson said he’s excited to see the deal go through. County commissioners have long sought a way to improve drainage systems and widen River Road for hurricane-evacuation purposes, though FDOT repeatedly said it would not be a priority if it were a county road. The swap will allow for widening and elevation improvements to add capacity, paved shoulders, sidewalks, landscaping and street lighting.
“Staff has been working on the Road Transfer Agreement for more than two years, but the project to widen River Road has been an effort for more than two decades,” Anderson said. “It’s fantastic to have actionable progress on this regionally significant project.”
Following a 2017 fatal crash on Higel Avenue, residents who live in the Bay Isle area have been looking for a way to make Siesta Drive safer and formed a coalition, Make Siesta Drive Safer. Throughout the past two years, leaders have worked with officials at the state and local level. Although Siesta Drive is a major road, Wulf said he would like to see the speed limit lowered because it runs through residential neighborhoods.
“It doesn’t have proper bike lines or good sidewalks and we’ve got people walking along there because we’re walking to the beach,” Wulf said. “So, it would be nice to have slower speeds and our impression is that the county understands that a lot better than the state does.”
Part of the plans for improvement on the island include crosswalks at Higel Avenue and North Shell Road and Siesta Drive and Old Oak Drive, which is on the mainland.
Both crosswalks will have a Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon, which, when pushed by a pedestrian, flashes lights to alert drivers that a pedestrian is preparing to cross. The total estimated cost is $73,920.
Although Wulf said those crosswalks will help, there is one needed around Hamilton Avenue so
pedestrians can safely cross Siesta Drive to get to the side of the road that has a sidewalk.
“My wife and I were riding bikes the other day and we had to wait about five minutes to cross Siesta Drive because there’s so much traffic,” Wulf said. “We need to get another crosswalk in there somewhere.”
Finally, Wulf said residents in the area would like to see the speed limit along the corridor reduced from 40 mph to 30, which would not only make the area safer but allow residents to drive golf carts on the road.
“It would open up a possibility for those people that can’t safely cross the street to get to a sidewalk, they could take their golf cart to get up to Shell Beach Road,” Wulf said. “If we could reduce it to 30, there are all kinds of goodness that comes from that.”