- May 6, 2022
Only a few weeks after celebrating the opening of the roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue and a brief holiday break, construction crews are back to work finishing what will be a two-year-long project.
Motorists may have expected traffic to flow more smoothly in this final phase of construction as work will largely return detours and staging areas into travel lanes and finish up details extending a couple of blocks away from the circle in all directions.
On Tuesday, though, eastbound traffic was backed up across the Ringling Bridge onto St. Armands Key and onto Longboat Key as crews closed one lane in the middle of the day to install concrete islands and curbing.
During previous phases, lane closures largely occurred overnight.
Although the roundabout is a state project on a state road, Sarasota City Hall took the brunt of the outrage, according to Deputy City Manager Pat Robinson. Longboat Key's Town Hall also got a fair share of complaints from residents and workers trying to make it to the mainland.
“At 11:30, the phones started ringing with folks asking what was the backup attributed to, and then by 3:00 every phone call that we were fielding was a motorist, a resident of one of the barrier islands who was very upset about the traffic back-up and the lack of movement off the keys,” Robinson said. “We weren't notified by FDOT that that a lane closure was going to occur.
“When it was brought to our attention by our citizenry, we started making phone calls, and we learned that the eastbound lanes were reduced to one lane. That's when we started putting information out through the city website to the SPD website, but obviously by that point it was self-perpetuating.”
The entire roundabout complex was anticipated to open late last year. Monthly updates with the contractor, CDM Smith, consistently projected completion sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the state’s response to Hurricane Ian upended those plans as materials, equipment and manpower were diverted south to address emergency infrastructure repairs.
That delay caused the contractor to focus on opening the traffic circle itself by the end of the year, which it did, leaving the finishing touches extending into this spring.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Sarasota Police Department issued a traffic alert warning drivers that it takes 45 minutes to one hour to reach the mainland from the Lido Beach/St. Armands area.
“The Florida Department of Transportation understands the impact motorists experience when disruptions on roadways occur," reads a statement from FDOT. "Project teams must balance completing necessary work at the same time of maintaining traffic flow. In addition, certain tasks on our projects have different requirements, from when work should occur to how many lanes are needed to be closed to perform the work.”
Frustrated residents took to social media, blaming the snarl on everything from too many people coming to Sarasota to a failed functioning of the roundabout.
“Too many people. That won’t be fixed,” wrote one on the Facebook page Sarasota Word of Mouth. “It’s because all the people that keep moving here from up north,” wrote another. “It’s the new normal. Will never get better.” And so on.
Wrote a more informed resident, “Construction congestion, and it didn’t help to strangle traffic down to one lane.”
Others placed the blame where it didn’t belong. Wrote one commenter, “Some brilliant Sarasota traffic person isn’t too smart.”
Only it isn’t a Sarasota traffic person issue. Managing the construction schedule and maintaining traffic flow is the responsibility of the FDOT and the contractor.
According to the weekly construction update provided by FDOT and the contractor, work the week of Jan. 8 includes:
On Tuesday, FDOT states, "One lane was able to remain open while time-sensitive work was performed and, as soon as work was completed, the contractor fully reopened the roadway. Moving forward, we have noted the timing for performing mid-day operations and will exercise greater efforts to keep the public informed in advance of traffic flow changes will be made. In addition, the FDOT welcomes feedback from the community.”
During Tuesday’s communications with FDOT, Robinson said he was assured that the city would be notified of any future non-scheduled daytime lane closures, such as what occurred on Tuesday.
“At this point we are not aware of any scheduled lane closures,” Robinson said. “We were advised that there is a possibility of them closing other lanes to do similar work in the future, but we've been assured that they will be communicating with both the city of Sarasota and Longboat Key so that we can minimize the effect to the motoring public.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Florida Department of Transportation.