Manatee County's Capital Improvement Plan for a traffic light at Lorraine Road and Player's Drive in Lakewood Ranch included a description of the plan.
"Based on a traffic study, the warrants to install a traffic signal at this intersection were met. Staff recommends installing a traffic signal along with pedestrian crossing features. The selected traffic control is expected to improve the overall operations and safety of the vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists in this area."
Residents of Country Club East in Lakewood Ranch point to that statement as they continue to build opposition to new county plans to build a roundabout at the site.
In December, then-Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who since has retired from public office, told her fellow commissioners that she felt a roundabout would be a safer alternative and would help to reduce speeding on that stretch of road.
Baugh noted that Lorraine Road mostly was a straight shot between State Road 64 to Fruitville Road and that with increased traffic due to growth, there would be little on that stretch of road to slow traffic. She also noted that noise from speeding vehicles was becoming a concern.
It should be noted that even while she supported the roundabout, Baugh said that the county would collect input from Country Club East and Country Club residents over the following months to be able to make a better, informed decision about which plan was better.
The other commissioners unanimously agreed and decided to fund design costs of a roundabout instead of a traffic signal at the intersection, which feeds entrances to Country Club East on one side of Lorraine Road and the Country Club on the other side.
At the time, Public Works Director Chad Butzow said having both designs would allow county commissioners to make a closer examination on which plan would be better.
Butzow said, in response to the Country Club East residents' assertion that Public Works preferred a traffic signal over a roundabout, that at the time the initial study was done, roundabouts were generally out of favor in the county. That feeling has since changed.
"We knew we needed intersection control," Butzow said. "Either one (a traffic signal or roundabout) would do it quite well."
Butzow said all the new homes being built in the area and the expected traffic increase have made a roundabout the best solution for that intersection.
Roundabout moves forward
Now with the county ready to move forward with a roundabout, a large group of Country Club East residents is trying to get the county to reconsider. The Country Club East residents say that emotions got the best of county commissioners and that the county's own studies of the site — based on the statement in the Capital Improvements Plan — verified that a traffic signal would be the better option.
The description of the roundabout plan on the county's Capital Improvement Plan is the same except the statement above has been changed to say, "Based on evaluations of different intersection control measures and input from stakeholders, it was determined that a multilane roundabout is warranted."
The design of the traffic signal cost $150,000 while the design of the roundabout cost $200,000. About 50% of the design has been completed for the roundabout. The budget for the roundabout is $2,111,000 while the budget for the traffic signal is $1,730,000.
Nancy Haas, who heads the Country Club East Residents Roundabout Committee that opposes the roundabout, said the county took surveys a year ago that showed while Country Club residents favored a roundabout, Country Club East residents did not.
She said that The Insurance Institution on Highway Safety, which generally favors roundabouts, notes, "Sometimes space constraints or topography make it impossible to build a roundabout. Geometric design details vary from one site to another and must take into account traffic volumes, land use, topography and other factors. Roundabouts often require more space in the immediate vicinity of the intersection than comparable traditional intersections."
Haas said the size of the planned roundabout concerns Country Club East residents. The roundabout is only about 25 yards from the Country Club East gate making it a probability that traffic at busier times will back up both coming out of the community and going into it.
If traffic backs up going into the community, from the gate and into the roundabout, it would be likely to snarl traffic in both directions on Lorraine Road.
Butzow said the proximity of the gate would be a concern for either project.
"You can only do so much with the space you have," he said. "Is it perfect? No. But do you not build something because (it affects traffic) for 15 minutes each day?"
He was referring to the fact traffic is heaviest during school drop-off and pick-up times and rush hours.
As designed, the roundabout isn't a true "two lanes" design all the way around. As traffic on the north and south portions of the roundabout move into and out of Lorraine Road, traffic in one of the lanes is forced exit on Lorraine.
Members of the Country Club East group are concerned that if they enter the roundabout from Player's Drive, and they want to go south, they will be forced in a very limited space, to cross the right lane of the roundabout, which is sending traffic onto Lorraine Road going north. They said it will create a dangerous and confusing scenario.
Haas said her group must make the commissioners understand they are creating a hazard.
"We need to keep our feet to the fire," Haas said. "We want to push this."
Haas said bids for the roundabout project aren't scheduled to be decided until May, so they have some time.
"Our main goal is to educate our residents," she said. "And they should have knowledge of both sides."
University Park's Richard Garrett, a board member of the Florida Bicycle Association, said the county isn't taking bicyclists into consideration if they adopt the current design of the roundabout.
He said roundabouts in general force drivers to "look left" when they enter a roundabout to see who is already in the roundabout, and therefore has right-of-way. He said there is lesser concentration on looking to the right to see bicyclists who are approaching.
Therefore, he said, designs should always leave plenty of space so that those riding in bicycle lanes on Lorraine Road can merge into traffic before motorists get to the roundabout. He said the current roundabout design he has seen does not offer adequate space for bicyclists to merge.
A member of several bicycle organizations, such as Village Idiots of Lakewood Ranch and the Sarasota-Manatee Bike Club, Garrett said Lorraine Road has long been a favorite place to ride for the clubs.
"Every bike club I am a member of is worried our access to biking in this area is being curtailed due to unsafe conditions," he said. "Our concern is that roundabout is improperly designed, and it will lead to safety hazards. If done well, it would be acceptable for all road users. I have the right to ride comfortably on the road."
Members of the Country Club East group suggest, at the very least if the roundabout design goes through, that a sharrow (a bicycle symbol placed in the roadway lane telling motorists to expect to share the lane with cyclists) should be part of the design.
Alan Kravitz, a County Club East resident and a member of the community's roundabout group, said currently Country Club East has two lanes entering and exiting the community on Player's Drive. That will be reduced to one lane in each direction to feed motorists into and out of the roundabout. He said that will cause backups into the gate area.
"There is just not enough space for a roundabout," he said. "There is not enough real estate."
Country Club East resident Mary Auger noted, "The traffic coming into Country Club East is generally backed up now. With a roundabout, those trying to get into (the roundabout) will potentially end up with a calamity."
Auger said she also doesn't feel the design of the roundabout will make it safe for those pedestrians who want to cross Lorraine Road to go to either of the two communities. She said the crossing spaces, when used, are likely to cause further backups into the roundabout.
Country Club East resident Art Vetter said he is concerned about construction traffic using a tight roundabout, which he said is far too small to handle the traffic. He said there will be a danger of trucks losing their loads or simply negotiating the small space.
"This is going to hurt us tremendously," he said. "This is the worst thing."
The group is organizing to attend a county information meeting about the project on Sept. 27 at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Lakewood Ranch. A letter writing campaign has formed to send the group's thoughts about the project to commissioners.
Country Club East currently has 1,352 homes.
Those who want more information about the group can send an email to [email protected].
Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.