For Tom Freiwald, chairman of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force, one word sums up his feelings regarding the progress of the Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study.
“The communication has been disappointing,” Freiwald said, speaking on behalf of the task force. “We hope we will not continue to be disappointed.”
The long-awaited study, which is a $942,000 project of the Florida Department of Transportation, is an examination of how to improve the flow of traffic to, from and on Longboat Key, Anna Maria Island and Lido Key.
In May, FDOT and Stantec, the department’s consultant, hosted the study’s first steering committee meeting, which initially encouraged island leaders. However, at a Barrier Islands Elected Officials meeting, which was held on Longboat on July 19, island officials said there had been little communication with FDOT or Stantec representatives since.
“Right now, we have no roadmap forward on this study at all,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson, who initiated discussion of the study at the meeting. Representatives of Longboat, Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach also attended.
“I’m a little disappointed that there hasn’t been more updates, emails, something,” said Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock.
Like other island officials, Bullock expected FDOT’s consultant to meet with barrier islands representatives every month or so to discuss the progress of the study.
“It does not appear to be that the consultant or FDOT had that understanding,” Bullock said.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy referred to the situation as a “communication breakdown.”
Following the meeting, Bullock emailed Tricia Labud, FDOT’s traffic studies/analysis specialist, asking for an update on the study to relay to island leaders.
In her response, Labud wrote that the next meeting of the steering committee is tentatively scheduled for the week of Oct. 9. She also expects FDOT will deliver a presentations about the progress of the study at the Island Transportation Planning Organization meeting on Sept. 11. In the meantime, Labud wrote that FDOT will provide island leaders with biweekly updates about the study’s progress.
FDOT aims to complete the study in three phases, with an ultimate goal of determining specific recommendations by fall 2018.
In June, FDOT announced completion of the study’s first phase, which is a 44-page review of available studies and transportation plans regarding the barrier islands.
In her email, Labud wrote that Stantec is now performing analysis for the second phase, which calls for making observations and collecting traffic data. The third phase will come with a complete transportation management plan and recommendations for improvements.
After the first steering committee meeting, Freiwald said he and other attendees worried that the study is focusing primarily on strategies to alleviate parking. His concern remains after his review of the first phase of the study.
“That flavor is still woven throughout,” Freiwald said.
Like Freiwald, Jack Daly, a Longboat commissioner and Metropolitan Planning Organization representative, hopes the study will not overlook potential major infrastructure changes to the barrier islands and surrounding areas. Mayor Terry Gans has emphasized the need to address not only traffic on the islands, but interconnectivity between the islands and mainland.
Bullock said he appreciates Labud’s responsiveness and expects to continue working with FDOT toward a positive outcome.
“What I want out of the study is short-term and long-term recommendations to improve traffic flow during season,” Bullock said.