County leaders awaiting DeSantis’ action on appropriations Legislature approved for three projects, including reopening of Midnight Pass site

Total of $5 million sought

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Image courtesy State of Florida

Not only does the 2024 Florida Legislature’s appropriations bill contain $500,000 for the restoration of the tidal flow between Little Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, but it also includes $3.5 million for planned improvements to the intersection of McIntosh and Clark roads in Sarasota, along with $1 million for Sarasota County’s plans to widen North Honore Avenue from Fruitville Road to 17th Street, Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for the county, told the county commissioners this week.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, sought $1 million for the tidal restoration initiative this year, on behalf of the county. She requested $2 million for the Honore Avenue initiative and $7 million for the Clark/McIntosh roads project.

The question is whether all of the county funding that the Legislature ended up approving this year will win the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lewis pointed out.

On March 20, during the commission’s first workshop on the proposed county budget for the 2025 fiscal year — which will begin on Oct. 1 — Commissioner Joe Neunder asked about the timeline for the governor’s decisions on the 2024 appropriations bill. Neunder voiced particular interest in the Little Sarasota Bay support, as he has championed the reopening of Midnight Pass on south Siesta Key.

Given the fact that DeSantis last year vetoed funding for that tidal flow restoration, Neunder told Lewis, “I’m not holding my breath.” In fact, Neunder added, “Last year, I felt a little burned on the whole process.”

(Like DeSantis, all of the commissioners are Republicans.)

Lewis explained that the start of the state’s fiscal year is July 1. Thus, no rush is necessary in terms of legislative staff transmitting the appropriations bill to DeSantis.

“My belief is that [members of the governor’s staff] are probably going through that very carefully,” Lewis added of the bill, as they try to determine what DeSantis might want to veto.

As for when the transmission of the bill from the Legislature will take place, Lewis continued, “I always hesitate to hazard a guess.” Nonetheless, he said, he expects that action within the next 30 days, though it is likely within the next two weeks.

Typically, Lewis added, DeSantis holds a press conference to announce a number of projects he has chosen to support, with the legislative sponsors present, as he prepares to sign the bill after vetoes.

Neunder expressed his appreciation to Lewis — as well as County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and Public Works Director Spencer Anderson — for fielding many questions about the Midnight Pass initiative over the past year. “I believe this project is well worth it,” Neunder added.

This graphic summarizes the status of Little Sarasota Bay as of the spring of 2023. David Tomasko, executive director of the nonprofit Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, showed it to the commissioners during an April 11 presentation. Image courtesy Sarasota Bay Estuary Program

The other projects winning legislative support

As the News Leader also has reported, county staff plans to widen to four lanes the existing two-lane section of Honore Avenue from Fruitville Road north to 17th Street. The distance is about 1 mile, a county Capital Projects Department document notes.

The initiative includes the addition of bicycle lanes, sidewalks on both sides of Honore Avenue, roadway lighting and landscaping, the document points out. Additionally, the one-lane roundabout at the intersection of Honore Avenue and Richardson Road will be expanded to two lanes, and the signalized intersection at the intersection of Honore Avenue and 17th Street will be converted to a two-lane roundabout. “Stormwater facilities and drainage to accommodate the roadway improvements are also included in the design,” the document says.

The Kimley-Horn consulting firm won a $1,699,984.74 contract with the county to handle the design of that undertaking. The Capital Projects document does not include an estimate for the construction.

This graphic shows the location of the Honore Avenue project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In regard to the Clark Road/McIntosh Road improvements: Anderson, the Public Works Department director, has talked with commissioners in the past about the need to realign that intersection.

This graphic shows the location of the proposed Clark Road-McIntosh Road realignment. Image courtesy fDOT

A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) webpage notes that a Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study of that initiative is underway, at a cost of $461,000. The work is expected to be completed late this year.

The webpage points out that the goal is “to realign the existing offset [of State Road] 72 [Clark Road] at McIntosh Road intersection, by removing the ‘jog’ and creating a four-legged intersection. The realignment will also consider the Legacy Trail alignment in proximity to this intersection. Alternatives to be evaluated shall include shifting the east leg of McIntosh Road, located north of SR 72, to the west, to align with the southern portion. The roadway typical section will be a two-lane McIntosh Road, expandable to four-lanes in the future. In addition, at-grade bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, access modifications between McIntosh Road and Sarah Avenue, and the Legacy Trail crossing of the realigned McIntosh Road, will be evaluated.”

The document that state Rep. McFarland filed on behalf of the county, seeking the state funding, offered these details: “The intersection is currently offset and bifurcated by the Legacy Trail. Completing the realignment will resolve the issue of errant vehicles turning down the trail entrance, improving the safety of the intersection for all users, motorized and [pedestrians]/[bicyclists] and will mitigate/reduce crashes, aligning with Target Zero goals.”

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