County to relocate utility lines next year so FDOT can proceed with current design of Laurel Road overpass for The Legacy Trail

Because of federal funding restrictions, no other option seemed feasible, the county’s chief engineer reported

Isaac Brownman. File photo
Isaac Brownman. File photo

Having run out of other options, Sarasota County staff will relocate a 30-inch water line and an 18-inch sewer force main by the end of August 2017 so the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) can build a Laurel Road overpass for The Legacy Trail, Chief County Engineer Isaac Brownman has reported to the commissioners.

The water line serves 60 percent of the county’s customers, Brownman has explained. In June, he noted that those people would be without service “for a period of time” during the relocation.

In response to a follow-up question this week from The Sarasota News Leader, county spokesman Drew Winchester reported that staff anticipates the utility line work will start in early 2017.

The overpass work is set to begin in September 2017, Brownman told the board during its regular meeting on Sept. 7.

FDOT notified county staff in July that a redesign of the bridge would mean essentially starting all over with the project, and that would necessitate the pursuit of funding for it in the 2018-19 fiscal year, Brownman noted in an Aug. 29 memo to the commissioners. That also would have entailed the deletion of funding planned for other county projects for that fiscal year to accommodate the Laurel Road overpass, he added.

At the same time, he continued, FDOT indicated that the federal funding designated for the Laurel Road overpass was available only for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Brownman and County Administrator Tom Harmer pointed out on Sept. 7 that staff evaluated the merits of pursuing a county-initiated overpass project that would have enabled the utility lines to stay in place. However, Brownman pointed out, “without the county having some dedicated funding [for] the project, we would be building it completely at our cost.”

Staff considered the possibility that the county could save money by constructing an overpass that would not be able to bear as heavy a load as the one FDOT has proposed, he continued. Therefore, Brownman said, staff looked at five new design options for the project. Ultimately, he acknowledged, “none of those options panned out.”

A rendering of the current design for the Laurel Road overpass is on The Friends of the Legacy Trail website. Image from the website
A rendering of the current design for the Laurel Road overpass is on The Friends of the Legacy Trail website. Image from the website

Therefore, he told the board, the staff recommendation was to proceed “as quickly as possible with the FDOT project.” And while staff had discussed collaborating with an FDOT crew to relocate the utility lines, he added, the decision also was made to have the county “maintain control of the project.”

“We all have expressed to Isaac that we want this overpass,” Chair Al Maio noted after Brownman concluded his remarks.

When Commissioner Charles Hines asked whether the funding for the utilities work will come out of that department’s budget, Brownman replied, “Yes, sir.”

FDOT staff members did agree to push back the award of the contract for the overpass from March 2017 to June of that year, to give the county extra time to move the lines, Brownman noted. But June “is the latest they can let [the contract] and keep the federal funding.”

When Commissioner Christine Robinson asked if he knew when the overpass would be completed, Brownman told her he did not have that information with him. She asked him to provide that to the commissioners later.

Winchester told the News Leader in a Sept. 13 email that staff has not received a response from FDOT yet regarding a detailed timeline for the construction, including the expected completion date.

Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

When Robinson asked whether the utilities work will necessitate the closing of The Legacy Trail in that vicinity, Brownman replied, “I don’t know at this moment. We will try to keep the trail active.” Still, he pointed out, “It’s going to be a pretty significant relocation effort. I can’t promise that there won’t be disruption.”

Robinson suggested to her colleagues that the board have staff prepare a Frequently Asked Questions sheet on the project, “because dates and variables have been moved around, [and we want to] make sure we have all the facts straight [for the public].”

“We can certainly do that,” Brownman responded.

Speaking on behalf of the board, Maio said Brownman had consensus to move forward with the utilities work.

Maio added, “I probably have pushed right to the limits where Mr. Harmer would say I was directing staff [on aspects of the overpass project]. But thank you for all the meetings [Brownman has had with Maio] and the meetings with FDOT,” Maio told Brownman.

County operational procedures call for the commissioners to provide direction only to the county administrator and the county attorney. The administrator then calls upon staff to take specific action.