After hearing that the cost of doing only road resurfacing on the stretch of U.S. 41 from 14th Street to Osprey Avenue would still be at least $7 million, the Sarasota City Commission unanimously voted to back the bayfront-connectivity plan.
That commitment to connect downtown to the bayfront brings with it six controversial roundabouts to be placed on U.S. 41.
Before it moved ahead with its plans, city staff asked the commission to reaffirm that it backs the plan, which calls for slower speed limits, narrower car lanes, wider, landscaped medians, greater pedestrian compatibility and six roundabouts from 14th Street to Orange Avenue. The entire connectivity project will stretch south to Osprey Avenue.
“We’re not just trying to get people across the street,” said project Manager Steve Stancel. “We’re trying to change the character of U.S. 41.”
The city’s consultant explained the advantages of the plan. The elimination of stop-and-go cars at traffic lights through the area would save drivers more than $13,000 in gas each year, reduce vehicle emissions by up to 30% and reduce traffic delays by up to 82%, according to Jason Collins, of Trans Associates.
Commissioners also voted to allocate $5.9 million to build the first two U.S. 41 roundabouts at 14th Street and 10th Street.
Collins told them that at some point, traffic-signal improvements in that same stretch of roadway would cost $4.7 million, and road resurfacing in the entire area from 14th Street to Osprey Avenue would cost the city $7 million even if it decided not to build the roundabouts.
“This is a historic moment for Sarasota,” said Rod Warner, a roundabout proponent and connectivity chairman of the The City Alliance. “When bayfront connectivity gets real.”
The city hopes the roundabout at 10th Street will help take some of the traffic volume off U.S. 41 by directing cars downtown via Lemon Avenue.
Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner questioned whether the 10th Street roundabout would make it more difficult for boaters to get to the boat ramp.
Collins said the roundabout will actually make things easier, because it calls for direct access to the boat ramp north of 10th Street. Northbound traffic will have a long turn lane after the roundabout, and southbound traffic will be able to turn directly into the ramp’s parking lot.
“Currently, 10th Street is a tight turn,” said Collins. “(The connectivity plan) will be more facilitative and safer.”
The first two roundabouts could be complete in three years. The rest of the bayfront-connectivity project could take up to 20 years to finish.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].