Longboat town commissioners sent comments about traffic to Sarasota commissioners and FDOT, requesting immediate action and better coordination. And the city’s response? The usual nothing.
Last week’s editorial, “Islanders to city: Fix 41-bridge backups now,” generated multiple responses — all from Longboat Key officials and residents.
From the city of Sarasota, no surprise: crickets.
No timeline, do something now
The following letter was emailed Jan. 29 to the Sarasota city commissioners and city manager, the Florida Department of Transportation, Longboat Key town manager and commissioners, and the Longboat Observer.
I have just returned to my home on Longboat Key. I live approximately 1 mile north of the Publix and Shoppes of Bay Isles, which is 5.1 miles from the city of Sarasota line at the south bridge.
The traffic at 3:30 p.m. is backed up beyond Publix in the southbound lane of Gulf of Mexico Drive. This is not unusual.
Since the city has terminated the third left turn lane from the Ringling Causeway to northbound Tamiami Trail, we routinely deal with this type of backup.
Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin’s statement of practicing yoga while sitting on the bridge in the other newspaper was not particularly humorous or helpful.
The residents of Longboat Key, Lido Key, Bird Key and St. Armands Key are facing serious safety issues. Emergency equipment caught in this backlog are seriously hampered. Residents attempting to get to medical appointments while sitting in this traffic are stressed, and for the older population, that is not good for them physically or emotionally.
Following the Observer’s excellent suggestion, I called the Sarasota city manager’s office. I spoke with a lovely woman who said she would share my phone number with the city engineer who would provide a timeline.
I do not need a timeline.
We have seen it, and it is unacceptable. It has made our community less safe, and those who are causing it (the city of Sarasota and FDOT) are doing nothing to improve the situation.
My suggestion: Reopen the third turn lane. Make those doing the construction do so overnight, and have the lanes open when traffic volume is high.
Yes, it might cost more, but what is the cost to thousands of individuals trying to get to work, to other appointments and to these communities that surely will see a drop in real estate values because of the traffic backlogs?
Ask the merchants of St. Armands Circle what impact the traffic backlog is having on their businesses.
Telling snowbirds things will improve in March is unacceptable. Do something now.
I will be sharing the editorial in the Observer on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
— BJ Webb Bishop, commissioner-elect, Longboat Key
My ask: better communication
The following letter was emailed Feb. 1 to Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, Commissioner Willie Shaw, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin, the Florida Department of Transportation, Longboat Key commissioners and town manager, and the Longboat Observer.
As you have read in a recent letter by BJ Bishop and the Observer editorial, the frustration of Longboat Key residents and barrier island residents and business leaders is at an all-time high.
I would like your help addressing the current problem.
As a long-time resident of Longboat Key and current commissioner, I appreciate the wonderful beaches, parks, sensible zoning laws and amenities we have on our island. One of the key quality-of-life items we enjoy is our proximity to the vibrant city of Sarasota. While still living on an island, we are just across the bridge from our doctors, shopping, great restaurants and the arts and entertainment that we enjoy and support.
That quality of life gets greatly diminished when it takes us more than an hour to get the 7 miles to the amenities we need and enjoy.
Lately, from 3-7 p.m., traffic going into Sarasota is so bad that most of us don’t attempt to go to Sarasota. That hurts your businesses and our ability to enjoy all that Sarasota offers.
We must find a way to improve the current situation.
I know the city and the town participated in the Florida Department of Transportation Barrier Island Traffic Study that looked for solutions. I understand that the city is planning to use pedestrian monitors in St. Armands Circle during a portion of this season, and we are supportive of that.
There are other longer-term solutions that will need to be explored as well, and we look forward [to] working with the city to support those through the MPO process and other mechanisms.
Our most recent issues have been caused by construction on the major streets off the island.
We learned in the newspaper about the tree removal and speed humps on St. Armands. The timing and need to shut down the third turn lane at Gulfstream and U.S. 41 seemed not to be planned well.
We must have better communication to the barrier island residents and businesses when our roads leaving the Key are restricted.
Also, we need your staff to view us as a key customer when planning projects that will so drastically affect our quality of life.
My ask is that your staff review in detail the upcoming construction projects at Fruitville/US. 41 and Gulfstream/U.S. 41 with our staff and consider every option to make sure those projects do not impact our ability to enjoy the amenities Sarasota offers.
Options, such as nighttime construction, off-peak construction, robust detours, police traffic control when needed, etc., need to be evaluated.
I look forward to working with you to improve the coordination and planning of transportation projects that impact the barrier islands.
— Mike Haycock, commissioner, Longboat Key
Mike: We are in receipt of your thoughtful letter and look forward to pursuing these ideas and collaborations as we move ahead. Thanks.
— Thomas Barwin, Sarasota city manager
City, FDOT attitudes predictable
I could not have agreed more with your editorial — probably because I’ve been unsuccessfully making the same pleas for years. At one point, the town offered to help pay for traffic officers at Gulfstream and U.S. 41.
To those residents, merchants and visitors who have watched with misgiving and skepticism as the city of Sarasota and FDOT have plowed ahead with their dedication to engage in simultaneous roundabout building (why not construct one and study how it performs?), this is a sadly predictable situation.
Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin’s attitude of “let them do yoga” as motorists stew on the Ringling Bridge is typical of the city’s refusal to recognize its role in the regional traffic network.
When the construction schedule slipped, it is telling that rather than wait until April 2020, work began on the Fruitville Road roundabout in December. Perfect for the beginning of the highest traffic count season.
One could wish for but not expect relief from FDOT. It is project-oriented, and extraneous details are a bother.
The current Sarasota city administration reflects an extremely parochial and restricted viewpoint.
The goose that provides the hope for golden eggs is visitors. And as visitors find they cannot move around easily, some won’t and don’t return. Result: The new and existing hotel rooms “enjoy” higher vacancies, home sales slow, and ultimately, fewer tax dollars are collected.
In the end, the barrier islands will not be the only ones reaping the consequences.
— Terry Gans, former mayor, Longboat Key
We missed church, mismanaged traffic
Further to your spot-on editorial, Sunday morning we tried to get to a 9 a.m. church service in downtown Sarasota. At 8:40 a.m., opposite the Sarasota Yacht Club, we hit a bumper-to-bumper, one-lane, stop-and-crawl traffic jam all the way over the bridge to downtown Sarasota.
The four lanes had been reduced to two lanes, one each way, for an athletic event with no activity in the two open lanes across the barrier. The event was over.
Traffic flowed well on the lane toward St. Armands Circle from downtown but was virtually stopped on the bridge one lane toward downtown.
At 9:20 a.m., still on the bridge, seeing traffic was still stopped all the way to U.S. 41, we gave up in exasperation and turned around.
The obvious problem was not the event. It was that traffic was terribly mismanaged downtown in relation to the event and in peak season. Why?
It is because traffic overall in peak season has been poorly planned and mismanaged for years.
There is clear evidence of a total disregard for access to and from Sarasota barrier islands, which is destroying and will further destroy property values.
The only Sarasota and FDOT response seems to be the magic solution of roundabouts and to encourage people to use bikes and to walk. Really?
How about thoughtful resident and tourist customer satisfaction planning and management for the sake of our property values, economy and quality of life.
– Bob and Shannon Gault, Longboat Key
Longboat working with Sarasota, MPO
Your recent editorial urging Longboaters to contact FDOT and Sarasota city officials concerning traffic from St. Armands Circle to U.S. 41 is timely and right on.
Such input also should focus on related projects on the U.S. 41 corridor, including the existing construction at Fruitville Road and the future roundabout at the Gulfstream, Main Street and Ringling Causeway intersections.
Toward that end, I offer some related activities in the works that will enhance the prospects for more positive responses to our citizens’ contacts to FDOT and Sarasota:
- There is a Joint Longboat Key-Sarasota County Commission meeting scheduled for Feb. 26, which is an excellent forum for public input and comments and joint commission discussions.
- In addition, just this week, the Metropolitan Planning Organization board, of which I am a member, approved a formal standing committee — the Barrier Islands Traffic Study Committee, which will include technical staffs from Longboat, the city of Sarasota and FDOT.
In addition to implementing many of the barrier island traffic recommendations, this committee will provide opportunities for ongoing technical and public input and coordination by the staffs of Longboat Key and the barrier islands with FDOT and Sarasota.
This also will include a focus on the all-important timing of the many projects under way and planned for the corridor.
I want to thank the Observer for its views, and residents can be assured that our efforts will continue to involve the public in meaningful ways to influence FDOT and Sarasota.
— Jack Daly, commissioner, Longboat Key