- March 2, 2017
Count Longboat Key Commissioners among those lining up against a Sarasota proposal to put a segment of a mainland arterial on a “road diet.’
Commissioners on Monday took the unusual step of scheduling a special meeting for Monday, April 8 at Town Hall to discuss, and possibly decide on, the best path forward to oppose the idea reducing lanes and adding roundabouts to Fruitville Road between Cocoanut Avenue and Lemon Avenue.
Since 2015, Sarasota has been working on options for redesigning Fruitville Road between U.S. 301 and U.S. 41, hoping to create a more welcoming pedestrian experience.
Longboat leaders’ concerns focus on the ability of that road segment to carry a westbound hurricane evacuation. Complicating their discussions: that stretch of road isn’t part of the state-maintained system.
Sarasota leaders are expected to discuss the project’s best options on April 15. Longboat leaders plan to be there.
“They’re about to consider shutting down our evacuation route on Fruitville, two lanes,’’ Mayor George Spoll said. “Turns out, lo and behold, the state is telling us that they have no control over these areas. Somehow this doesn’t set right with me.’’
The plan supported by Sarasota staff calls for narrowing the street from four lanes to two lanes, with a roundabout at each of the three intersections on that segment of the road.
Those plans drew criticism in 2017, when Sarasota last held a community workshop to discuss a potential project. Seven of the eight candidates running for a seat on the City Commission opposed the proposal at the time. Longboat Key spoke up against it. A 2016 Sarasota Police Department memo expressed concern about safety and evacuation procedures.
In the past two years, city staff has continued to weigh its option and worked to create a base of support for its favored plan. The city’s studies indicated that, by 2038, the new design would minimally affect travel times. Given the development taking place north of Fruitville, staff maintained its desire to tame the road.
And so, on April 15, staff will appear before the City Commission to recommend approval of a design concept that would eliminate lanes on Fruitville Road. Although the city is presenting two options — one of which would maintain four lanes along the entirety of Fruitville Road without roundabouts — staff said the reduction in lanes is its preferred choice. Both plans are estimated to cost between $9.5 and $9.9 million.
Steve Stancel, Sarasota’s general manager of economic development and a former planner, is optimistic.
“Once we’re able to show people how things can become more efficient and more safe and have better pedestrian activity but still maintain the level of service and travel times, in general, it becomes more acceptable to the community,” Stancel said.
Stancel and Assistant City Engineer Daniel Ohrenstein continued to refer to the studies the city commissioned to evaluate the design options. At worst, the projected 2038 travel times with and without roundabouts were the same. At best, westbound travel times during evening peak hours were projected to improve by 43 seconds.
In response to evacuation questions, Ohrenstein said more cars would use the road during normal peak-hour traffic than in an evacuation. The city used statistics from Hurricane Irma to confirm their models.
“The amount of traffic during the evacuation is a little less than your day-to-day traffic — which sounds surprising, but we have the benefit of actual data to back that up,” Ohrenstein said.