County Commission formally approves payment of $24,750,000 to FDOT for work on River Road improvements between U.S. 41 and I-75

County to borrow about $12 million and pull remainder of funds from other sources, including mobility fees for South County transportation projects

A graphic shown to the County Commission in October 2019 includes key dates in the road swap timeline. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The plans to widen and add other improvements to North River Road took another step forward this week with a vote of the Sarasota County Commission.

On Jan. 14, the board formally approved a $24,750,000 payment to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as part of the county’s agreement for the state to assume authority over the 6-mile section of River Road from U.S. 41 to Interstate 75. The funds will help pay for the design and widening of the road, plus other measures, such as drainage improvements. The money will be dedicated to work on the section of River Road from U.S. 41 to just north of the West Villages Parkway. The state will cover any remaining expense for that element of the project, a Jan. 14 county memo says.

On Oct. 8, 2019, the County Commission approved the road swap with FDOT, which will give the county jurisdiction over Siesta Key roads west of U.S. 41, including Stickney Point Road, Siesta Drive west of South Osprey Avenue, Higel Avenue and North Midnight Pass Road.

The Jan. 14 staff memo explains the county plans to pursue a $12-million loan agreement with the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to cover part of the county’s financial obligation to FDOT. Details of that borrow are expected to be on a commission agenda for consideration in February, the memo notes.

The remainder of the money going to FDOT will come from “available funds,” the memo continues: $5,670,000 from South Mobility Fee District Construction Fund; $2,070,500 from the South Roads Construction Fund; and $5,009,500 from the City of North Port’s Road Impact Capital Fund.

FDOT has programmed $73,082,014 for the entire North River Road project, a county document points out.

The next steps, the Jan. 14 staff memo explains, will be FDOT’s contracting with a design/build team for the River Road project. Plans call for construction of the improvements to begin in the 2021 fiscal year and to be completed in the 2023 fiscal year.

A map shows the segment of River Road that the state will take over from the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Residents’ objections to road swap acknowledged

FDOT did conduct a Dec. 11, 2019 public hearing on Siesta Key regarding the island roads in the swap, the staff memo adds.

Of the 85 people who registered at that meeting, 19 voiced opposition to the road transfer.

Altogether, FDOT received more than 200 comments or responses about the plan, as a result of conducting that hearing, Brian Rick, the spokesman for FDOT’s District One office, told The Sarasota News Leader this week.

Many of the Dec. 11 speakers cited Stickney Point Road’s importance as a hurricane evacuation route for residents who live on the southern part of Siesta Key. They told FDOT staff that that fact should have as high a priority with the state as County Commission assertions about the need for the River Road improvements because the South County road serves as a hurricane evacuation route not only for Sarasota County residents, but also for people in parts of Charlotte and Lee counties.

(County commissioners also have stressed that increasing residential growth in South County necessitates the widening of River Road.)

People sign in at the Dec. 11, 2019 FDOT hearing at Siesta Key Chapel. File photo

Speakers at the Dec. 11, 2019 hearing further voiced worries about how the planned Siesta Promenade project in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road will exacerbate traffic congestion in that area. However, at the outset of the hearing, Kyle Purvis of FDOT’s District One staff emphasized that the comments that night should focus on existing conditions, not future development.

Nonetheless, speakers argued that FDOT must remain involved in decisions related to traffic on Stickney Point Road.

Asked for the county’s position on that point, Media Relations Specialist Drew Winchester wrote the News Leaderthe following in a Jan. 14 email: “Sarasota County will regulate that section of Stickney Point Road per the [county’s] Unified Development Code, and maintenance will not change as Sarasota County already performs maintenance for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) at that location. Any activities near or adjacent to the intersection of [U.S.41], or related to the Siesta Promenade Development, would also be coordinated with FDOT. The developer for that site has informed staff they plan to complete all of their permitting through FDOT, prior to the formal date of [the road] transfer expected in fall of this year.”

Benderson Development Co. affiliate Siesta 41 Associates LLP actually is the developer of Siesta Promenade, which has been planned with 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space. The County Commission’s December 2018 approval of the project is the focus of litigation, with the Florida Second District Court of Appeal having accepted the case on Jan. 8.

Benderson Development Co. plans to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C to help facilitate traffic flow for Siesta Promenade. That is just one facet of the Siesta Promenade project that has prompted public opposition. Image courtesy Sarasota County

FDOT will maintain control of the Stickney Point Road and Siesta Drive drawbridges, as specified in the road swap agreement.

The staff memo provided to the County Commission in advance of the Jan. 14 meeting does note the objections of speakers during the Dec. 11, 2019 hearing, which FDOT conducted at Siesta Key Chapel. “The public record from the FDOT’s meeting will be a part of the approval package provided to the FDOT Secretary,” the memo adds.

County Media Relations Officer Winchester confirmed to the News Leader on Jan. 14 that, to the best of his knowledge, the road swap is “still a done deal.”

This map shows the portions of Siesta roads that will become the responsibility of Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Previous county investments in River Road

The Jan. 14 staff memo does point out that the county has invested a total of $52.6 million on improvements to River Road over the years.

It lists the following initiatives that have been completed, with the related expense:

  • $10 million (2002) — Winchester Boulevard two-lane construction from State Road 776 to River Road.
  • $21.9 million (2006 to present) — Right of way acquisition north and south of U.S. 41.
  • $5.9 million (2010) — Construction of intersection of West Villages Parkway and River Road.
  • $4.5 million (2013) — Design and construction plans for River Road from U.S. 41 to I-75.
  • $9.4 million (2014) — Construction of intersection of River Road and U.S. 41.
  • $900,000 (2016) — Estimated value of development agreement with West Villages Improvement District for joint-use ponds.

In the 2018 fiscal year, the staff memo notes, an additional $3 million was invested in resurfacing and maintenance of River Road from U.S. 41 to I-75.