The Longboat Key Town Commission is not going to take any chances.
It approved spending up to $25,000 of taxpayer money at its Monday, July 6 regular meeting to hire a traffic consultant that it hopes will dispute the city of Sarasota’s plans for six roundabouts on U.S. 41 near the bayfront.
The commission gave Town Manager Bruce St. Denis the direction after discovering the city has agreed to design and build a test roundabout at either U.S. 41 and 10th Street, or U.S. 41 and 14th Street, to see how drivers perceive it.
Worried that if the Florida Department of Transportation allows one roundabout it will allow them all, the commission gave permission to hire a traffic consultant to dispute the findings by the city’s consultants.
“The purpose is to flush out the opposition with professional expertise that can point out flaws in the designs,” Commissioner George Spoll said.
St. Denis said Public Works Director Juan Florensa is already in discussions with eight traffic firms, from which the town will choose.
But Commissioners Gene Jaleski and Hal Lenobel were not on board with the decision.
“It’s a gamble, and I don’t see gambling taxpayer money in the amount of $25,000 for a consultant that may come in and say roundabouts are an advantage for that area,” Lenobel said.
“This is taxpayer dollars being used again during tough times,” Jaleski said.
St. Denis, however, said a consultant would not be hired until the firm had reviewed the roundabout proposal and understood what the town’s position was.
Although Mayor Lee Rothenberg said Florida Department of Transportation officials had encouraged him to submit a resolution opposing the plan instead of hiring a consultant, even the mayor disputed the advice and voted to hire a consultant.
The commission made the decision just days after receiving an e-mail from Rod Warner, chair of The City Alliance, a Sarasota coalition that supports the city’s bayfront connectivity proposal.
In the e-mail, Warner says he “wonders why when facing a tough budget year, you would hire a traffic consultant given what is known and learned from other jurisdictions managing corridor traffic like ours.”
Warner contends that roundabouts will move U.S. 41 drivers along the bayfront quickly.
But Vice Mayor Robert Siekmann told commissioners that the town needs expertise to fight a roundabout plan that is still changing.
“They first proposed this plan to make the bayfront more pedestrian friendly,” Siekmann said. “Now, it’s all about traffic flow because their first argument didn’t fly with us.”
St. Denis said the town’s consultant would do its own modeling of the traffic model submitted to the state and could dispute the traffic counts used to get the results.
“If you want to make sure a decision is made correctly, you want your own consultant looking at the data,” St. Denis said.
Rothenberg said there is value in having a consultant evaluating a proposal that calls for six roundabouts and slower traffic speeds on a federal highway.
“There will be plenty there to tear apart,” Rothenberg said. “Because what we’ve seen is phony and a farce.”
The Town Commission also approved a resolution Monday that officially opposes plans for the roundabouts on U.S. 41.