After weeks of consternation about congestion and a closed turn lane, barrier island stakeholders are seeing some positive signs when it comes to traffic onto the mainland and along the U.S. 41 corridor.
Last week, crews reopened a turn lane from eastbound Gulfstream Avenue onto northbound U.S. 41 that had been closed as part of an effort to build a roundabout at Fruitville Road and U.S. 41. Island officials, residents and business owners had asked the city to reopen that lane as soon as possible and expressed a belief that the closure was negatively affecting the ability to move cars over and off Ringling Causeway.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the traffic changes implemented March 2 have had a measurable effect. Trisha Hartzell, FDOT district traffic operations engineer, sent an email to city officials March 5 stating backups between the mainland and islands during the afternoon rush hour had been minimal the previous two days.
Hartzell said FDOT staff began working to manage the congestion in late February. Beyond reopening the turn lane, the department has adjusted the signal timing.
“On all accounts when compared to the traffic several weeks ago, the congestion in the area of U.S. 41/GulfStream has improved significantly,” FDOT spokesman Brian Rick said in an email.
FDOT and the city have also made some commitments regarding future construction planning. The city has said it will not have any more lane closures between the mainland and St. Armands Circle until after season.
FDOT has said it will not begin work on another roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue until after the three other roundabouts on the road are complete. The state agency also pledged to schedule the work to minimize lane closures during peak season in 2021.
Still, the plans for another roundabout project remain a source of concern for some island leaders.
The Longboat Key Town Commission has discussed plans to make an appeal to Sarasota city officials to delay the project, though city staff has remained committed to the roundabout. The town has also debated whether it could pursue legal action to block the project, and residents have started an online petition.
FDOT District 1 Secretary L.K. Nandam said the organization is working with the city and Longboat Key on developing alternate traffic maintenance plans to put in place during construction of the Gulfstream roundabout.