County commissioners seek opportunities to provide cosmetic changes to design of Legacy Trail overpasses at Clark and Bee Ridge roads

Construction of bridges planned to start in fall of 2023

With construction planned to start in the fall of 2023, the Sarasota County commissioners this week asked a representative of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) about potential cosmetic changes to The Legacy Trail overpasses of Clark and Bee Ridge roads in Sarasota.

“These two bridges are really almost like a gateway to the community,” Chair Ron Cutsinger pointed out to Andra Diggs II, manager of the project for FDOT at its District One office in Bartow.

“I know they’re pedestrian bridges,” Cutsinger continued, “but they’re also very pedestrian in appearance.”

Commissioner Mark Smith, an architect, asked Diggs whether planters could be added on either side of the bridge, with the potential of vines growing up and over the bridge “so it wouldn’t look so much like a cage. … I think there’s an opportunity,” Smith continued, “similar to wildlife crossings I’ve seen over roads — that [the interiors of the overpasses] look a little softer.”

Moreover, Smith said, he felt the opportunity exists for murals to be painted on the walls, “to make [each bridge] not quite the fortress that it appears to be right now.”

Diggs explained that FDOT staff hopes to complete the design of the overpasses by the end of this year. The 12-foot-wide, shared-use paths will have ramp approaches. The project expense has been pegged at $11.5 million, he added.

The primary goal, Diggs emphasized, is to improve safety for users of The Legacy Trail.

Commissioner Michael Moran was the first board member to raise a question about modifying the design, “to put really nice, creative Sarasota kind of cool stuff on there for cosmetic type things.”

“It will depend on what you’re adding,” Diggs responded, “but there shouldn’t be an issue.”

However, Diggs did caution the commissioners that the county has grant funding to help cover the cost of the overpasses. To keep that money, Diggs added, “We have to have this [design] completed before June of 2023. … We have no intention of your losing that funding.”

Lighting features could be added, for example, Diggs continued.

Diggs showed the commissioners a number of slides, including a couple with engineering details. He did note that the color scheme for the Clark Road overpass is black, while gray is the shade for the Bee Ridge overpass. The county could change the colors, as well, Diggs said.

As part of the Dec. 13 presentation, Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, also explained that FDOT staff has adjusted its Clark Road overpass design to take into account county plans to realign McIntosh Road. Anderson showed the board members a couple of slides, as well, which depicted conceptual renderings, he noted.

The county already owns the property “where the road would need to be realigned,” Anderson told the commissioners.

McIntosh “would be elevated slightly,” he added, so The Legacy Trail would run beneath it; no at-grade traffic crossing would be necessary.

The Trail “would pop back out on the west side of McIntosh,” he said.

“That was a more efficient design,” Anderson explained, “rather than extending [the Clark Road] overpass all the way across and over McIntosh Road. The superstructure of that would be a very costly endeavor.”

He did stress, “This is purely conceptual at this point.” The goal was to work with FDOT staff to ensure the overpass design could accommodate the McIntosh Road realignment in the future, he said.

No timeline has been established for the construction of the realignment, Anderson said. Funding has been planned on from the county’s Surtax IV Program, which divvies up among the Sarasota County School Board, the county and the municipalities the revenue from an extra penny of sales tax. That program, which voters approved during the Nov. 8 General Election, will begin on Jan. 1, 2025 and continue through Dec. 31, 2039.

Anderson said he doubted, though, that the Surtax IV money would be sufficient for the McIntosh Road initiative.

“It’s going to be challenging to get that done costly,” Cutsinger responded.

Pointing out that he grew up on Palmer Ranch, Commissioner Joe Neunder said of the McIntosh realignment, “This is going to be wildly well taken by the residents there.”

Cutsinger also asked Anderson whether enough land might be available in one location, in conjunction with the McIntosh Road work, to provide 10 to 15 parking spaces for Legacy Trail users.

Anderson replied that he was not certain. However, he added, “It’s something we could certainly look at.”

“It would be great to have another access point,” Cutsinger noted. “Access is the comment I always hear about getting on the Trail,” he told Anderson. “So many [people] want to get on it,” Cutsinger said, “so any way we can provide more [accesses] is a good thing, if it works.”

Anderson did remind Cutsinger that, in conjunction with the construction of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail from Palmer Ranch to downtown Sarasota, a trailhead was built on Ashton Road. That facility — located at 4301 Ashton Road — is less than a quarter of a mile south of the site of the Clark Road overpass, Anderson added.

On one other note during the discussion, Commissioner Smith took the opportunity to talk about riding a bicycle on the Venice overpass for The Legacy Trail.

Noting he was uncertain how many of his colleagues had gone over that bridge, Smith said, “About half-a-mile away or so, you’ve got to start pumping, baby,” to get up the incline. Then, he noted, “You’re flying when you come down the other side.”