- March 10, 2016
As leaders on Sarasota’s barrier islands grapple with ongoing seasonal traffic issues, a Florida Department of Transportation project beginning in April could further complicate travel onto the keys.
On April 4, FDOT will start work on a project to replace two segments of the westbound Coon Key Bridge deck, just east of St. Armands Circle. The construction, which is expected to continue through July, will reduce the westbound bridge to one lane.
At a Tuesday St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting, attendees were upset to hear the construction would take place while seasonal tourist activity is still high. Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, urged city staff to discuss the possibility of postponing the project with the state agency.
“To close the bridge down, they’re economically impacting St. Armands, and I think they’re creating a huge nightmare,” Corrigan said. “I don’t think 30 days is going to make a huge difference.”
“They’re economically impacting St. Armands, and I think they’re creating a huge nightmare.” — Diana Corrigan
Although city staff members were surprised to learn about the project last month, FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen said bridge repairs have been planned since last year. He acknowledged the construction could be a nuisance for travelers, but said roadwork is conducted year-round.
“We can’t schedule all the work during off-tourist season,” Stublen said. “We program these projects, and the projects go forward once money is available.”
At this point, Stublen said, FDOT does not have the flexibility to reschedule the project. He pointed out work will begin after Easter, a date historically used as a reference for the end of peak season. As off-peak tourism continues to grow in Sarasota, Stublen said there would always be challenges associated with scheduling construction efforts.
“We continue to be busy; state tourism continues to go up,” Stublen said. “People love our beaches. There’s not really a good time to start.”
The project’s budget is $704,300. Construction will not impact the eastbound bridge lanes, which will remain open for pedestrian use as well.
“We can’t schedule all the work during off-tourist season.” — Robin Stublen
The bridge lane closure will be just one of many factors contributing to traffic onto and off of the keys. BID leaders discussed other changes they hoped could address congestion issues, including coordinated traffic signal timing and the relocation of the Circle valet stand.
The group also asked staff to investigate the staging of construction on Vue Sarasota Bay at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. Corrigan said crews standing along both streets make travel onto the John Ringling Causeway an even lengthier process than usual.
“Out of season, it’s doable,” Corrigan said. “In season, it’s just exacerbating a problem that’s already a nightmare to begin with.”