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Traffic study points way toward solutions for Longboat congestion

The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization will soon create an implementation plan for the Barrier Islands Traffic Study completed in 2020.

Alternatives for the Longboat Pass Bridge focus on bicyclist and pedestrian safety, widening lanes and building higher to avoid frequent openings.
Alternatives for the Longboat Pass Bridge focus on bicyclist and pedestrian safety, widening lanes and building higher to avoid frequent openings.
Photo by Mark Bergin
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Traffic congestion remained one of the top issues identified by Longboat Key residents in the latest citizen satisfaction survey. But what can be done to alleviate the issue? 

For the barrier islands, steps will eventually be taken to implement recommendations from the Barrier Islands Traffic Study, which wrapped up in March 2020. 

Members of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization will have a 900-page study to reckon with before moving toward implementation. 

The Florida Department of Transportation launched the Barrier Island Traffic Study in May 2017. The study, which cost about $675,000, included three phases, the last of which wrapped up in 2020.

Vice Mayor Mike Haycock is Longboat Key’s representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a position which he has held for four years. The group meets about three times a year to discuss traffic-related issues. 

The goal of the MPO is to act as a planning committee for Sarasota and Manatee counties’ transportation. An MPO is established by federal legislation and coordinates with entities like the Florida Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. 

“We want to take the next steps and evaluate the work that’s been done in the last four or five years from the Barrier Island Traffic Study and then do a little bit more work ourselves and evaluate what can be implemented, what it would take and what costs are involved with that,” MPO Deputy Director Ryan Brown said.

Vice Mayor Mike Haycock is Longboat Key’s representative on the MPO, a position he has held for four years. The group meets about three times a year to discuss traffic-related issues. 

In 2020, the MPO presented the Barrier Island Traffic Study. At the time, the study was in Phase 3, in which the organization presented a variety of possible roadway improvements, cost estimates and recommended project phasing. 

The study included short-, medium- and long-term projects that varied in cost and time. 

“It’s still in the works, it’s now in the form of moving toward implementation,” said Brown. 

Brown said he recently met with representatives from the town of Longboat Key to present to them the next steps the MPO is taking to address the study. 

Along the same lines as the Barrier Island Study is another document called the Congestion Management Plan. This is something that is mandated by federal legislation, Brown said, and evaluates traffic conditions across the region. It evaluates traffic in different settings like peak season, mornings, evenings and weekends. 

Brown said the data from the Congestion Management Plan will be presented in May and finalized around September.

Though the data isn’t final yet, Brown shared something that most Longboaters are accustomed to: Traffic can be unpredictable. 

“With some of the conditions out here, you basically have to prepare two-and-a-half times as long as you think,” Brown said. “There’s a certain threshold where people stop making the trip out, and that’s what we don’t want to see.” 

The metrics that determine this are confusing, Brown added, and could vary depending on the location and time of day. 

Taking into account the data from the Congestion Management Plan, the MPO will dust off the Barrier Island Study and put together an implementation team, according to Brown. 

The MPO will hire additional consultants for the implementation team, as well as form a group from within the MPO. Brown emphasized that implementation is something that will require a partnership between the barrier island municipalities, from Anna Maria Island to Siesta Key. 

“We want to make sure all these things are happening in unison,” Brown said. “You don’t want to do something on one island and then facilities don’t quite connect or cooperate with one another.”

Looking around Longboat

Haycock said there isn’t a lot to be done on Longboat Key itself, but the projects in surrounding jurisdictions can help the issues. 

When the BITS was presented in 2020, Haycock said that Longboat Key had about six or seven items listed as priorities. 

Among those was “John Ringling Parkway Counter-Flow.” A roundabout was then constructed to address this concern, something that Haycock said has made traffic a little smoother. 

Another recommendation was to add flexible lanes to all future bridges, something that Haycock said is included in plans for future bridges like the Cortez and Longboat Pass Bridges. Any future Longboat Pass Bridge alternatives would have a 12-foot shoulder. 

Intersection improvements for Gulf Drive and Cortez Road were listed as priorities, which Haycock said could be an extended right turn lane getting from Gulf Drive to the Cortez Bridge. That’s difficult, he said, since a lot of property would need to be purchased to make that work. 

Longboat Key had also listed “Pedestrian Managers at St. Armands Circle” as a priority. This was piloted, Haycock said, but didn’t work out. 

An “aerial tram” between Sarasota and St. Armands/Lido Key was another idea that Longboat Key had listed as a priority, something that Haycock said was a far-fetched idea. 

Some successes did come from these priorities, though. 

One of the priorities the town identified was to coordinate a unified transit system between Sarasota and Manatee counties, which came to fruition this year with the expansion of Sarasota County’s OnDemand service to cover all of Longboat Key

“I think it’s been a tremendous success,” Haycock said.

Multimodal transportation, like water taxis, were included in the Barrier Island Study. This January, the Gulf Islands Ferry service began and has seen good ridership so far. 

“We’re trying to figure out how people on Longboat Key could utilize that,” Haycock said. “We’re kicking around the idea of trying to have some sort of taxi for our workers so they can get back and forth.”

The problem there, according to Haycock, is that adequate parking spots are needed on both ends to make it work. 

The town also listed the Anna Maria Island Trail as a priority, something that is entering the planning stages now. Haycock said he thinks this is a good opportunity for Longboat Key to get involved, especially since the town plans to pursue a complete street design in the future. 

It’s also a way to collaborate, similar to what Brown said about a partnership between municipalities. 

“We think we’re going to be able to at least be involved in, and potentially influence, how they control traffic leaving the beaches in the afternoon,” Haycock said.

When the MPO does start the implementation process, Brown said that it will start with getting some general timelines in place for some of the projects. 

Going forward, Haycock said he believes Longboat Key’s role will be as a voice that shares residents’ concerns with traffic congestion among the barrier islands. 

“I think the biggest thing we can do is influence the commissioners on the north end … to help us get our workers off the island faster than it takes now,” Haycock said.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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