A ray of hope for Siesta Key’s perpetual parking problem topped the news at Tuesday’s Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) meeting.
SKVA President Cheryl Gaddie, who led the meeting, announced to the association a recent Sarasota County Commission decision to move forward with plans for a Siesta Key trolley rather than a similar service on University Parkway.
“This was a long time coming,” Gaddie said.
The proposed trolley service will run seven days a week, ferrying riders from Southgate Mall to Siesta Village and Turtle Beach at 30- and 60-minute intervals. Regular SCAT buses will be wrapped in decals to make them look like trolleys.
The decision to add the Siesta trolley service stems from a May 14 decision of the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to approve $3.4 million in new vehicle services for SCAT — allowing for the opening of a new route and expanded services.
The BCC decided, against SCAT recommendations, to choose the Siesta trolley proposal as a short-term priority for funding over a trolley service along University Parkway that would provide service to the area around the University Town Center and Nathan Benderson Park and Aquatic Sports Center.
County Commissioner Joe Barbetta supported the Aug. 27 prioritization of the Siesta Key route, but added that it was critical to have public transportation in place for the 2017 World Rowing Championships. “We need to have it up and running in 2015 or 2016,” Barbetta said, referring to the University Parkway route. “We promised we’d have public transportation ready.”
According to a county report, the Siesta trolley route would require two vehicles and approximately nine bus operators. SCAT Manager Glama Carter reported to the County Commission Aug. 27 that a $1,087,000 Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) grant will be available in July, covering half of the new route’s price tag for a three-year period. After the FDOT grant expires, SCAT can discontinue the route if ridership is insufficient, with no FDOT penalty, Carter said Aug. 27.
A county report said the Siesta trolley would not be operational until January 2016. SCAT officials were uncertain whether the prioritization of the Siesta Key route over University Parkway would shorten the published timeline.
Attendees of Tuesday’s SKVA meeting were optimistic the new public transit service could help alleviate some parking problems on the Key and would be an invaluable tool to ferry spectators, in town for large events such as the 2017 World Rowing Championships, out to the Key.
“We need to be ready for 2017,” said Lourdes Ramirez, a Siesta Key resident who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “This will be a huge event for Sarasota County, and we want to make sure we can get people out to the Village.”
The next Siesta Key Village Association meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 1, at Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, 5250 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key.