$115,000 FDOT grant to help Sarasota Police Department target speeders and aggressive drivers

FDOT matrices show City of Sarasota’s high rankings for crashes with serious injuries and fatalities in multiple categories

Just before she and her fellow Sarasota city commissioners voted unanimously on Feb. 21 to approve a grant agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to help address the issue, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch indicated that speeding and aggressive driving are among the most common complaints of residents.

“I know we — or at least I do — get a lot of comments and emails and conversation at neighborhood meetings about speeding through neighborhoods,” she pointed out.

The $115,000 FDOT grant will cover the expense of overtime for Sarasota Police Department officers, related benefits, and the cost of a speed measurement device on a trailer, so the agency can tackle residents’ concerns. The agreement says that officers will “[s]trive to decrease speed and/or aggressive driving crashes and fatalities citywide by 5% when compared to the previous three-year average.”

Further, officers will conduct at least one speed and/or aggressive driving, high-visibility overtime enforcement operation each month, and they will conduct and/or participate in three “educational/community outreach events to increase speed and/or aggressive driving awareness during the project period.”

The grant documents define “High Visibility Enforcement” as activities that “are over and above what normally takes place”; that occur “often enough to create general deterrence”; that target “high-risk locations during high-risk times”; and that are planned to ensure that a “majority of the public sees or hears about the enforcement.”

No city matching funds were required.

Accepting the grant, Ahearn-Koch pointed out, would demonstrate to concerned residents that “we are taking this [issue] very seriously.”

Both an FDOT state Safety Office representative and City Manager Marlon Brown signed the agreement on Jan. 23, one document in the grant package shows. Sarasota Police Chief Rex Troche signed it the prior day, Jan. 22.

The agreement notes that the Sarasota Police Department will begin its enforcement activities within 60 days of receiving the funding, “unless otherwise approved by the FDOT State Safety Office.” The funding must be used by Sept. 30.

Although the grant agreement was listed as part of Consent Agenda 2 for the Feb. 21 meeting — a spot generally accorded to ordinances needing second votes for implementation, for example, and specific types of routine city business matters — Ahearn-Koch had pulled it for comments.

The backup agenda material included a Jan. 30 memo from Chief Troche to City Manager Brown. Technically, Troche explained, the department had accepted the invitation of an FDOT division to apply for the funding. Troche added that officers would “conduct high visibility, zero-tolerance enforcement operations at locations identified as having a high frequency of traffic crashes, speeding, and aggressive driving issues, and failure to obey traffic laws within work zones.”

The speed measurement trailer, he continued, “will be used to discourage drivers from speeding and [encourage them to] obey work zone speed limits …”

The department’s grant application explained that the city “has experienced a large number of traffic crashes over the past three years,” adding that the city “is continually growing, and with growth comes construction, and with construction comes congestion, which in turn can lead to frustrated, agitated and distracted drivers.” Moreover, the application continued, “Each year more ‘snowbirds’ come to the City of Sarasota for the winter,” and they stay longer, increasing the population count, which already has been climbing because of more individuals relocating to the municipality.

The above factors had produced “a substantial increase in the amount of vehicular traffic utilizing the roadways within the City of Sarasota,” plus a hike in “speed-related crashes,” the application said.

The Sarasota News Leader reviewed three recent FDOT Highway Safety matrices that included cities with population from 15,000 to 74,999 — the category including the City of Sarasota.

The 2024 chart, reflecting traffic incidents that resulted in serious injuries and crashes from 2017 through 2021, ranked Sarasota in fourth place — out of 101 cities — for “Pedestrian or Bicyclist” incidents; seventh in the “Speeding and Aggressive Driving” category; seventh for “Work Zone” incidents; and 26th in the “Distracted Driving” category.

The 2021 matrix, based on data collected from 2014 through 2018, covered 102 cities in Sarasota’s population category. That chart put Sarasota first in the “Speeding and Aggressive Driving” category; second on the “Pedestrian or Bicyclist” list; fourth in the “Work Zone” category; and fifth on the “Distracted Driving” list.

FDOT’s 2020 matrix, based on the number of serious injuries and fatalities between 2013 and 2017, covered 101 cities in Sarasota’s population category. In that chart, Sarasota was ranked first in the “Speeding or Aggressive Driving” category; second on the “Pedestrian or Bicyclist” list; third in the “Work Zone” category; and fifth on the “Distracted Driving” list.

Troche’s Jan. 30 memo added, “Though our enforcement efforts have helped, it is clear that continued education and enforcement of the State’s speed and aggressive driving laws is necessary to reduce the incidences of serious injuries and fatalities on City of Sarasota roadways.”