The Sarasota City Commission voted last month to take $817,000 intended for a longer turn lane from John Ringling Causeway to U.S. 41, which would help traffic flow off the barriers islands, and put it toward a roundabout at 10th Street instead.
City officials say the longer right-turn lane, which allows people to head south on U.S. 41 from the barrier islands, doesn’t meet the city’s goal of greater pedestrian accessibility to the bayfront.
The 10th Street roundabout, the commission hopes, will be the city’s first test roundabout for its plan to add five roundabouts on U.S. 41 as part of its bayfront connectivity proposal.
But if the state, which has final say on the federal money slated for the project, won’t allow the money to be shifted, then the commission will try and move forward with a roundabout at Five Points Park.
City planner Alex Davis Shaw said she doesn’t believe the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which will review the money transfer, will have any issues with the request. If the money transfer and the roundabout are approved, it could take three years before the test roundabout is built.
Longboat Key Vice Mayor Robert Siekmann called the city’s decision “frustrating and very disappointing.”
“They (the city commission) are so committed to this exotic solution that they are ignoring tried-and-tested longstanding solutions to traffic problems,” Siekmann said. “Extending the turn lane is a proven way of solving a traffic problem that exists for barrier-island residents trying to get off the islands.”
City commissioners also voted to keep the $800,000 originally intended for a roundabout at Palm Avenue and Ringling Boulevard to still be used for that purpose.
But, if traffic studies prove a roundabout is not needed at Palm Avenue, the city will lose approximately $130,000 it spent designing that roundabout.
City officials believe it would take at least six years for approval and construction of a controversial roundabout planned for Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41. City commissioners are hoping to move the project forward more quickly.
To combat the city’s continued support of its roundabout plan, the Longboat Key Town Commission approved in July spending up to $25,000 of taxpayer money to hire a traffic consultant to review the city of Sarasota’s plans.
So far, the town has committed itself to paying $15,000 as a retainer for the services of Tampa-based Florida Transportation Engineering Inc.
Public Works Director Juan Florensa said the consultant is looking at data the city has made available to the town.
“Our consultant is working for the town to help us evaluate what the city may or may not be doing,” Florensa said. “Their job is to advise us when we need expertise on any roundabout plans.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Lee Rothenberg expressed doubt that the roundabout plan will ever see fruition.
“To put roundabouts on a federal road like U.S. 41 requires a lot of approvals,” Rothenberg said. “We understand their position, however, and we are watching closely.”