Assistant county engineer provides update on Siesta roads swap; bollards installed at western end of Avenida Messina; Siesta Key Breeze proves very popular in recent weeks; few serious crimes reported in January; Condo Council announces Feb. 19 program; and SKA to hold annual meeting on March 2
On Feb. 7, the assistant Sarasota County engineer reaffirmed to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members that the county’s swap of Siesta roads for River Road, involving the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), is expected to be completed soon.
Larry Mau joined Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), in discussing traffic and parking issues on the island in the context of a planned Feb. 27 County Commission workshop. (See the related story in this issue.)
For those among the approximately 65 audience members unfamiliar with River Road, Mau explained that it is a “two-lane road that carries very high volumes of traffic.”
Yet another stress on that route, he noted, will be its use to reach the new Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex, which is under construction in the West Villages. The Braves will play the final game of their 2019 Spring Training season there in March.
Additionally, county commissioners in recent years have noted the thousands of new homes under construction in the vicinity of River Road, as well as the road’s designation as a hurricane evacuation route for South County and Charlotte County residents.
Yet, the county has not had the financial wherewithal to widen River Road and make the other long-sought improvements to it, Mau pointed out. “It is pushing more than $70 million to widen that road,” he said.
Therefore, he continued, “We made a deal with DOT.” (See the related story in this issue.)
The county will assume authority over all of State Road 758 west of U.S. 41, and Stickney Point Road, Mau told the audience, and the state will take over River Road.
The deal will not include the Siesta Drive and Stickney Point Road drawbridges, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis has explained; FDOT will continue to maintain control of them.
During the Feb. 7 discussion, SKA President Gene Kusekoski pointed out that on the stretch of State Road 758 — Midnight Pass Road — from the Stickney Point Road intersection to the Beach Road intersection, bicyclists and pedestrians must contend with the fact that the condominium complex properties “come in and out; the shoulder disappears and reappears.”
In a May 23, 2018 email to Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents Siesta Key as part of District 4 — Kusekoski explained, “The shoulder on that segment, where bikes normal ride, varies in width from a barely acceptable 2-3 feet to essentially the width of the white line marking the roadway boundary. No part of this meets the standards to be designated as an official bike lane, but some parts do allow for safe cycling. Unfortunately, many parts do not.
“To make matters worse,” Kusekoski continued, “the transition between the asphalt roadway and cement sidewalk has height differences ranging from essentially flat to a 3-4 inch drop in either direction. This has caused many bikers to take a spill in this area. FDOT efforts to try to mitigate the problem by adding asphalt ‘ramps’ between the shoulder and the sidewalk have actually made the problem worse by adding yet another transition to the narrow shoulder.”
During the Feb. 7 SKA meeting, Kusekoski told Mau that he had seen surveyors working on parts of the stretch of road he had addressed in that email, and he knows that the resurfacing of Midnight Pass Road is planned from the Stickney Point Road intersection to Shadow Law Drive in the 2022 fiscal year. Is anyone considering trying to provide more uniformity with the shoulders and the sidewalk, he asked.
County staff has requested that FDOT undertake some improvements on parts of State Road 758 before the swap is completed, Mau replied. “The right of way is very tight out there,” he added. “It is extremely expensive to acquire right of way. There’s not a whole lot we can do, but we certainly will do what we can …”
A woman in the audience who apparently was unfamiliar with the proposed road swap asked whether that would include the stretch of Midnight Pass Road south from the Stickney Point Road intersection.
Mau told her that that already is under county authority. It is listed as County Road 789.
Another member of the audience asked whether the county would have control over the traffic signals at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road after the swap has been completed. “Those have to be the worst signals,” the man added. Drivers unfamiliar with Siesta do not realize that they can turn right on the red arrow, the man continued, so they do not, “[and] traffic backs up to [U.S.] 41.”
“We will have control of that,” Mau replied, “so, yes, we’ll be glad to look at [the situation].”
In recent years, FDOT has imposed a variety of limitations on traffic flow at the intersection. Because of concerns that arose in early 2014 about the safety of pedestrians trying to cross at Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road, FDOT erected a “No Turn on Red” sign for traffic planning to head north from Stickney Point Road onto Midnight Pass Road.
Complaints immediately began to multiply.
As a result, FDOT staff installed a “blankout” sign to prevent right turns onto Midnight Pass Road whenever a pedestrian pushed the button to use the crosswalk. Otherwise, an FDOT spokeswoman told the News Leader, drivers would be able to turn right on red.
Then, in late 2015, FDOT began work on another new project at the intersection — this one also designed to improve pedestrian safety. The crosswalks were reconfigured. However, after island business owners and residents protested the initial design, traffic was allowed to use an “acceleration lane” to turn right from Stickney Point Road onto northbound Midnight Pass Road.
Bollards installed at the end of Avenida Messina
During the Feb. 7 SKA meeting, Assistant County Engineer Larry Mau also answered questions about a change in the situation at Beach Access 2, at the western end of Avenida Messina.
“We’ve recently installed bollards at the end of Avenida Messina to try to keep people from driving on the beach,” Mau explained. “Last year, we had a number of occasions when youthful drivers were on the beach,” he continued, including incidents during sea turtle nesting season, which runs from May 1 through Oct. 31. “And that’s just totally unacceptable.”
County workers also relocated the handicapped parking space at Access 2, Mau noted.
“We do have a lot of ‘No Parking’ signs [in that location],” he added. “We will be enhancing those.”
Mau also pointed out — as county Communications staff previously had explained to The Sarasota News Leader— that Emergency Services Department staff members had to assess the situation at Access 2 before the handicapped space was moved. They wanted to be certain that emergency vehicles would have sufficient turning radius.
However, even with the bollards in place, Mau explained, county government staff has no enforcement authority, if someone tries to drive onto the beach. A Sheriff’s Office deputy, he said, “has to go out there … and issue citations.”
“The county has the authority to end access at a road unless there is due reason for it to be open,” Mau continued.
In response to one audience member’s question, Mau added, “If you own a piece of property there, we will be glad to provide access for you.” Thus far, Mau continued, Mike Cosentino — who owns the parcel at 10 Beach Road — is the only person who has requested such access.
“There is a chained gate to the right,” Mau added, which leads to county property to the north. County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff keeps a key to that gate, he said, so anyone who needs access to the beach north of Access 2 through that gate can contact staff.
A very good trend with crime
When Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office Siesta Key substation, appeared before SKA members for his report on Feb. 7, he said, “Two is the number this month.”
Cernansky noted, “We had two auto thefts, two residential burglaries, two vehicle burglaries, two petty thefts” and one robbery, which was an incident involving two parties who know each other. Discounting the latter situation, he added, the total was “nine Part I crimes for the whole island for January. That’s fantastic.”
The “Part I” reference was to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system. Part I crimes are those considered more serious.
“How we define ourselves is by the prevention of crime,” Cernansky explained. “We don’t want crime to occur.”
He added that he hoped island residents had noticed “a lot more visibility” of Sheriff’s Office personnel on the Key in an effort to prevent crime.
That many trolley riders?!
During her presentation at the Feb. 7 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, reminded the approximately 65 audience members of the mass transit options visitors and residents have regarding the Key.
Before she left the office that day, she said, she asked Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) staff for the latest ridership numbers for the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley, which was launched in March 2017.
From Dec. 22, 2018 through Jan. 31, Rissler pointed out, the Breeze had more than 70,000 riders. “Certainly, it’s being used.”
That news prompted a couple of gasps in the audience.
The News Leader checked with Lisa Potts, SCAT’s communications specialist, to make certain this reporter had heard the figure correctly. In a Feb. 8 email, Potts replied, “[W]e actually had a little over 73,000 riders between December 2018 and January 31, 2019.”
Siesta architect Mark Smith, long-time leader of Siesta business organizations, has said that he believes every two riders on the trolley represent one vehicle not on the island’s roads.
As for other mass transit options: Rissler noted during the SKA meeting that SCAT’s Route 11 service circulates from Cattlemen Road through downtown Sarasota over to the Key and to Gulf Gate. Additionally, Route 33 runs through Pinecraft — located primarily in the vicinity of Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road — and then to Siesta Key on a loop.
“We’re trying to promote those routes, as well,” Rissler added.
Condo Council announces Feb. 19 meeting plans
County Administrator Jonathan Lewis will be the main speaker for the Feb. 19 meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, the organization has announced.
Lewis will make the annual “State of the County” presentation, focusing on such topics as The Legacy Trail, the Siesta Key Breeze trolley, water quality and the upcoming County Commission discussion of Siesta Key traffic and parking issues, a Condo Council email blast says.
A question-and-answer session will follow his remarks.
Additionally, Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier will provide the 2018 statistics for operations of Station No. 13 on Siesta Key, as well as plans for that facility’s replacement, the email blast says. Regnier, too, will take questions from the audience, the notice points out.
The meeting will begin at 3 p.m. at Siesta Key Chapel, located at 4615 Gleason Ave., on the northern end of Siesta Key.
SKA to conduct annual meeting on March 2
The Siesta Key Association will host its Annual Member Breakfast Meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, the nonprofit has announced.
Any member is entitled to two free tickets to the breakfast, President Gene Kusekoski explained during the Feb. 7 SKA meeting. However, the member must request those tickets. To do so, he said, a person may email the board at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the names of the attendees.
The breakfast meeting has had a capacity crowd the past several years, so directors are urging people to sign up as soon as possible.
The featured speaker will be Dr. Philip Farrell, who wrote An Illustrated History of Siesta Key: The Story of America’s Best Beach. The book was published about a year ago.
Farrell will be signing copies at the meeting, Kusekoski added.