Longboat leaders lament spike in traffic congestion
Although immediate congestion was expected, the town is still concerned about long-term placement of pedestrian crossings.
| 2:30 p.m. February 25, 2022
There was a day not too long ago that Longboat Key Town Commissioner Maureen Merrigan found herself through the looking glass, traffic-wise anyway.
At a recent workshop meeting, when the talk turned to seasonal traffic, she related a story of checking a way-finding app for the fastest route from mainland Bradenton to her north-end Longboat Key home.
The routing didn't go as expected.
“They recommended the fastest way to go, since Cortez was so far backed up on the island, was to actually go south, past the airport, and through Fruitville and up the Key,’’ she said.
Similarly, Town Manager Tom Harmer told about his experience of coming back to the island from the east, expecting cues from a way-finding app to follow the typical route west on Fruitville Road through downtown, to U.S. 41, then up and over the bridge.
The fastest route, the app had calculated, was essentially around downtown Sarasota to Mound Street, along the bayfront, through the traffic circle construction zone from the south and over the bridge to the barrier islands.
Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said, after working his way home from the mainland recently, he checked on the estimated time for a similar drive he had just made: 80 minutes from downtown Sarasota to his home.
Welcome to Traffic Season: 2022.
“It’s just untenable now, it’s horrible,’’ Merrigan said.
While the focus of late has been on roundabout work at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue in Sarasota, Merrigan reminded Longboat commissioners that the north end of the island sees its own brand of congestion on Bradenton Beach and throughout Anna Maria Island and their bridges, often leading to stalled lines of traffic on the Longboat Pass Bridge and beyond.
“We’re back to where we were concerned we would be,’’ Haycock said.
Harmer told commissioners the ongoing roundabout work in Sarasota is a concern, but Florida Department of Transportation has been working to alleviate as many slowdowns as possible. In recent weeks, a third eastbound lane has been carved out of the serpentine detour leading off the Ringling Bridge, and changes in traffic light synchronization have been made to keep things moving.
According to FDOT, these components of the overall project are active now:
Water main work at Palm Avenue and 1st Street, through March 4.
Electrical connections of recently installed light poles throughout the project.
Grading of roadway base along Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41 between Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue on the east side.
Excavation, roadway earthwork and curb installation on U.S. 41 between Gulfstream Avenue and Fruitville Road.
Continued installation of underground storm drainage on U.S. 41 north and Gulfstream Avenue by Ritz Carlton Drive, and on U.S, 41 between Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue. Before construction, that area was a frequent flood site in heavy rains. Part of the road work is designed to keep that from happening.
Install storm drainage structure tops on U.S. 41 between Gulfstream Avenue and Fruitville Road.
The Florida Department of Transportation remains in the Phase 1A configuration of its $8.6 million project on U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. The state’s plan is to finish by fall 2022 with incremental changes coming over the next months that will slowly open access to pedestrians and offer greater driving options on the road leading up to full use of the new traffic layout.
“We knew going in, with the traffic plans for the construction phase, that February and March was going to be really bad,’’ Harmer said, acknowledging some of the improvements FDOT has made. “I think it’s going to be a messy couple of months. We anticipated this, but I think it helps to keep reminding (FDOT), and hopefully when the roundabout is in, we won’t have these same issues.’’
One concern remains for the town beyond the construction phase, as it has since the project began.
Harmer said three pedestrian traffic signals remain part of the ultimate plan between Gulfstream and Fruitville, which could bring traffic to a halt with flashing red lights. As it stands now, a red-light pedestrian crossing governs the crosswalk at the Fruitville Road roundabout. He said the town and the city of Sarasota have been in contact with FDOT over potential pitfalls there.
FDOT officials said the red-light equipped crossing signals are designed to lock out immediate subsequent uses by groups of pedestrians to help keep traffic flowing. The delay is on the order of 20-30 seconds, though, with an eye toward not frustrating would-be road crossers to take their chances without the benefit of a signal.
Also, pedestrians who activate a crossing signal can only stop traffic in one direction at a time.