A sidewalk-repair project on John Ringling Boulevard has exasperated barrier island traffic, frustrating residents and stalling vehicles across the John Ringling Bridge this week.
“Honest to God, I’ve never seen it that bad," said Bird Key Resident Lou Costa. "I’ve been here 15 years. I have never seen traffic like this backed up going into St. Armands. It is unbelievable."
Costa said the traffic has delayed employees on Longboat Key and St. Armands from getting to work, including the construction workers on the sidewalk repair project. He said he's joined neighbors in avoiding the area until construction is complete.
As one of its final projects in response to Hurricane Irma, The Florida Department of Transportation is installing a new sidewalk along the north side of John Ringling Boulevard between St. Armands Circle and Bird Key. The project, which will remove and replace the existing sidewalk, is expected to be completed by Jan. 19.
“It’s been a long time and we certainly appreciate the patience of the public as we got everything prepared,” said FDOT Communications Manager Zachary Burch. “The good news is we’re coming to the end there”
The construction covers a few hundred yards of sidewalk near the Sarasota Harbor West and Sarasota Harbor East condo complexes. The majority of the old sidewalk had been ripped up as of Thursday afternoon, but work crews were still on scene installing the new sidewalk.
Last month FDOT began removing debris that had piled along the sidewalk since the storm hit the area in September. After removing debris, FDOT officials determined the sidewalk was damaged beyond repair and needed to be rebuilt, Burch said.
As the project progresses, the right lane of the causeway heading westbound toward St. Armands has closed, forcing vehicles to merge into one lane and slowing traffic. Since the project began, daytime traffic has backed up at times past Bird Key and stalled all the way up to the John Ringling Bridge.
The closed sidewalk has also caused a headache for pedestrians. There is no crosswalk between Bird Key Drive and Washington Street, leading some joggers and cyclists to dart back and forth across the street.
Sarasota Police Department spokeswoman Genevieve Judge said there haven’t been any incidents in the area involving traffic or pedestrians since construction began, but the department is keeping a close eye on the area. Legally, pedestrians must cross at a crosswalk and can be ticketed if they cut across an unmarked area.