County Commission calls for scrapping plans to construct Siesta roundabout at intersection of Beach and Midnight Pass roads

County administrator to talk with FDOT representatives about use of state funds for South River Road

These are the design features of the roundabout that had been planned at the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Following an update from Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson on years-old plans for a roundabout at the Siesta Key intersection of Midnight Pass and Beach roads, the County Commission on May 15 agreed that the county should scrap the project.

The board members will take a formal vote on that direction at an upcoming meeting, as Chief Deputy County Attorney Karl Senkow had recommended.

In the meantime, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said he would talk with the District 1 staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), to learn whether state funds promised for the roundabout construction could be redirected to another project, such as improvements to South River Road. He will report on those discussions, Lewis said, during the same regular board meeting when the vote is taken to remove the roundabout project from the county’s Capital Projects Department list.

The discussion arose during the commission’s May 15 budget workshop.

Anderson explained that county staff received only one bid on the project. Yet, while staff had estimated the expense at $4.2 million, he said, “[The bid] came in at $8.9 million. … The budget was completely blown.”

Only one company submitted a bid for the initiative, Anderson pointed out.

“They still are committed to the project,” he continued, referring to FDOT staff members.

During a county staff discussion with FDOT representatives about the bid situation, Anderson continued, the FDOT staff members suggested that county staff keep an eye on construction costs over the next 12 to 18 months and then, if construction costs seem to be coming down, the county staff could put the project out to bid again. The hope would be that a more competitive bidding process would result, Anderson added. “That is what we’re planning to do.”

In response, Commissioner Mark Smith, who lives on Siesta Key, pointed out to his colleagues that members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) made it clear during their March 7 meeting that they remained opposed to the roundabout.

Spencer Anderson looks at Commissioner Mark Smith as Smith begins his comments about Siesta residents’ opposition to the roundabout. News Leader image

Anderson was present that evening, Smith noted, so Anderson was aware of the nonprofit’s stance.

“There was a sigh of relief,” Smith added, “when we found out that the [bid was] so high, [the roundabout] couldn’t be built.”

“I wouldn’t bother [to keep the Siesta roundabout proposal alive], honest to God,” Smith continued. “I don’t have any faith that a roundabout in that location is going to improve [the situation with traffic].”

FDOT staff members have supported roundabout construction statewide, contending that the structures improve traffic flow and prevent accidents with serious injuries and fatalities because vehicles move more slowly in roundabouts; crashes that do occur are less severe.

As The Sarasota News Leader reported, south Siesta resident James P. Wallace III and leaders of the SKA stressed during that March meeting that a county online survey conducted in October 2020 found that only 33.15% of the respondents said they would like to see a roundabout constructed at the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road; 32.07% wanted no change to the signalized intersection, while 29.89% were in favor of an improved signalized intersection.

The survey netted only 552 responses, and not all of the participants were island residents.

Image courtesy Siesta Key Association

One man in the SKA audience during the March SKA meeting, who said he generally is in favor of roundabouts, told Anderson, “This is a fairly unique situation” on Siesta, in regard to the traffic congestion near the beach along with the high number of pedestrians. “Your expectation of the outcome in this situation is not going to be successful,” the man warned. The traffic will back up on both Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road, the man added.

Wallace also threatened legal action if county staff were to continue to plan on the roundabout, though he said that the SKA should be the plaintiff in such action.

In response to a News Leader request for a comment on the May 15 decision, Neal Schleifer, vice president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) provided this statement: “It would be a wise decision not to proceed with the roundabout project at Beach Road and Midnight Pass. Many would be relieved. There was great concern the flow of traffic would make access to and exit from residences south of the intersection extremely difficult and dangerous. Hopefully, the funds can be spent on another project. Some have also suggested improving the current signalized intersection.”

Commissioner Smith initially suggested the potential of FDOT’s allowing the county to use the money for the roundabout funding to improve the signalized intersection.

Additionally, in response to a News Leader request, Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, provided the following comments via email on May 16, with some emphasis: “In this road segment,” she wrote, “we’ve had no accidents and we have high pedestrian, homeowner/visitor access requirements.

Continuous traffic flow is not a sole priority in this situation.

It is essential for the future to implement a barrier island Traffic Modeling study. 

This must be done independently, with an expert modeling system. It should include what may be any increased development on our barrier island. It could be contracted instead of purchased if the ‘cost’ remains an issue. We understand the purchase of such a modeling system could be used in other areas of the County. 

This is a primary area of agreement of all who experience work, recreation or lining in homes on Siesta Key. Without this element of oversight, we are not planning with ‘best practices’ for our future on the barrier island 

Our request to the County Commissioners and the State DOT,” she added, is “Please utilize a portion of the State Funds allocated for a ‘Best Practices’ Traffic Modeling Study and provide the other road intersection enhancements/signaling required for the intersection of Midnight Pass Road.

Siesta Key Association members also have lamented the fact that neither they nor Condominium Council leaders, in collaboration with Commissioner Smith, have been able to persuade Smith’s board colleagues to pay for a comprehensive transportation model for Siesta Key.

Plans to explore other options

Commissioner Mark Smith makes a point during the Jan. 30 regular board meeting. File image

During the May 15 budget workshop, Smith was the one who suggested that perhaps the funds that FDOT was going to pay for the roundabout could be dedicated to another county initiative.

“I’m all for exploring that option,” Commissioner Neil Rainford responded.

“I concur with Commissioner Smith,” added Commissioner Joe Neunder, who represents the southern portion of the barrier island as part of his District 4 territory.

County Administrator Lewis did explain that the roundabout was a facet of the “road swap” that the county completed with FDOT a few years ago. Then-FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault signed the relevant documents on Feb. 18, 2020.

The county took over jurisdiction of the roads on Siesta Key — including portions of both the north and south approaches from the mainland — in exchange for FDOT’s assuming control of River Road.

Then-County Administrator Tom Harmer first announced the potential of that road swap during remarks to the board in September 2017. County leaders had been working for decades to speed up improvements on North River Road in South County, as it is a major hurricane evacuation route. However, FDOT leaders had maintained that they could not make that project a priority as long as River Road was a county road.

Therefore, Lewis told the commissioners on May 15, he would need to find out from FDOT representatives whether the money that would have gone to the Siesta roundabout perhaps could be redirected to another county project.

Neunder suggested that the funds could be used instead for Jacaranda Boulevard, which has been the focus of driver concerns since it opened.

“Yeah, yeah,” Lewis replied to Neunder with a chuckle.

Lewis speculated that since the pledge of the roundabout funding was a facet of the road swap, perhaps the money could go toward improvements on South River Road, which remains in the county’s jurisdiction. “That’s the first thing I would ask,” Lewis added.

FDOT itself has proceeded with the work on improving River Road between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75.

This graphic shows the project area for the North River Road improvements. Image courtesy FDOT

Lewis also said that even though FDOT had agreed to pay for construction of the Siesta Key roundabout, members of the agency had not recently specified the actual amount they were willing to commit. Determining that figure will be another point of his discussion with the District 1 staff, he indicated.
Commissioner Rainford acknowledged that he would hate to lose the state funds, though Chair Michael Moran noted the possibility. “We’ll see,” Moran said.

“I believe our [FDOT] district is the best district to deal with,” Lewis told the commissioners.

Lewis then made it clear that he would come back to the board with a formal agenda item calling for a vote on canceling the Siesta roundabout plans at Beach and Midnight Pass roads.

“Sounds great,” Moran responded. “I’m getting head nods everywhere,” Moran added, referring to his colleagues on either side of him at the dais.

2 thoughts on “County Commission calls for scrapping plans to construct Siesta roundabout at intersection of Beach and Midnight Pass roads”

  1. I completely support a traffic study by a competent company. My only demand would be that it not be Kimley-Horn (of former commissioner Alan Maio) which has shown itself to be overly influenced by developers and found no traffic issues for Benderson’s plans at the intersection of US-41 and Stickney Point RD. Anyone driving that area knows that determination was not competent.

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  2. Traffic study should be completed and I agree not by Kimley-horn.. let’s do the traffic study sometime in February March April when everything is at a complete standstill. on the key this year I witnessed at least three times emergency vehicles that could not get through. Additionally, a pedestrian that was hit on a sidewalk because a truck tried to get around the traffic.

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