Dec. 3 deadline set for public to express desire for FDOT hearing on the planned swap of Siesta roads to Sarasota County jurisdiction

Siesta Key Condominium Council urging members to notify FDOT of concerns, so department will proceed with hearing tentatively planned for Dec. 11

This aerial view shows a close-up of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection. Image from Google Maps

As a result of the Sarasota County Commission’s Oct. 8 approval of a road swap agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), representatives of FDOT’s District One tentatively have planned a public hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at Siesta Key Chapel on the inclusion of Siesta roads in that swap.

However, any person wishing to be heard during that hearing must respond in writing to FDOT no later than Dec. 3, the Siesta Key Condominium Council advised its members in an urgent email blast this week.

A formal FDOT advertisement of the public hearing — included in the Condo Council email — points out, “If no public interest in convening a hearing is expressed, the hearing will not be held.”

The notice explains that the road swap includes the transfer to county jurisdiction of State Road (SR) 758 — Midnight Pass Road north of the Stickney Point Road intersection; Higel Avenue; and Siesta Drive; Bay Road; and part of Osprey Avenue — plus State Road 72 (Stickney Point Road) from U.S. 41 to the Midnight Pass Road intersection on Siesta.

The Condo Council is urging its members to respond to FDOT by the Dec. 3 deadline.

This is the FDOT public notice referenced in the Condo Council email blast. Image courtesy Siesta Key Condominium Council

The proposed road swap has been a focus of community organizations on Siesta Key since its potential first was announced in September 2017.

County commissioners and county staff saw the initiative as the means of finally getting necessary improvements completed on River Road in a timely fashion. As long as River Road remained under county jurisdiction, FDOT officials had told county leaders, the improvements would not be a high priority. The road swap plans have resulted in FDOT’s advancing plans for the widening of River Road and other work between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75.

However, Siesta residents and leaders of the Condo Council and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) have expressed worries about the potential impact of the swap on what they point out is the dangerous, heavily congested intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

The County Commission’s approval on Dec. 12, 2018 of the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development on the northwest corner of that intersection has exacerbated those concerns.

Sura Kochman, a Pines Shores Estates resident who led opposition to the intensity of the plans for Siesta Promenade, alerted her supporters on Nov. 27 to the FDOT public notice, the News Leader learned. That resulted in the Condominium Council email blast.

As SKA President Catherine Luckner has noted, FDOT Traffic Services Program Engineer Keith Slater raised worries about Siesta Promenade in a July 2016 letter to county staff.

The development plans are for 414 condominiums/apartments, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space. However, litigation is underway in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to try to prevent the development from becoming reality.

A graphic in a March 2018 Kimley-Horn and Associates traffic analysis shows the site where Siesta Promenade is planned to be built and the adjacent road network. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In his letter — which was addressed to Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division — Slater wrote, “The department has a responsibility to provide a safe and efficient roadway for our residents and the thousands upon thousands of visitors and tourists that come to our great state each year. Sarasota County is one of the larger tourist areas within the state with many new residents moving to this county annually.”

Slater then pointed out that the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road is included on FDOT’s “High Crash Segments” list for Sarasota County. He added, “Crashes have increased on average 30 percent per year with an astonishing 175 percent total increase between 2010 and 2014.”

He further noted that during the peak afternoon drive time, the Level of Service for the intersection is an F, even though FDOT “completely [retimed] signals along this corridor in 2015.”

(FDOT’s 2009 Quality/Level of Service Handbook describes “level of service” as a way to reflect a driver’s perception of how well traffic flows in a particular area. The state agency uses six letter grades, A through F, with A being the best and F being the worst, the handbook explains.)

In their Nov. 27 email blast, Condo Council leaders also note Slater’s letter.

“It has been stated that should the road swap take place, that FDOT would have the opportunity to ‘weigh in’” on any changes in traffic patterns affecting the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, the Condo Council email points out. However, “the ultimate decision” about traffic considerations at the intersection would rest with the county, the email adds.

Todd Mathes, director of Benderson Development Co. — which is the developer of Siesta Promenade — and other representatives of the company have maintained in public presentations that FDOT could undertake another signal retiming initiative in conjunction with construction of Siesta Promenade, to improve traffic flow.

Other reasons for worry

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. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, Benderson Development’s traffic consultant on the project, Kimley-Horn and Associates of Sarasota, called for a new traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C, along with other roadway adjustments, in an effort to prevent exacerbation of congestion in the area.

Nonetheless, in a Dec. 19, 2017 email, Nathan Kautz, an FDOT traffic services engineer, notified Kimley-Horn employees that they had not proved that a traffic signal would be warranted at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.

Kautz added that the median opening at Glencoe Avenue would need to be closed to accommodate traffic headed from the east to a northbound queue, “if a signal is warranted.” Further, Kautz wrote, “How Avenue A will work with the queues at the proposed signal should be addressed.”

Earlier, in a Nov. 6, 2017 email to Kimley-Horn employees, Kautz noted that some of his colleagues had asked for assurance that the proposed signal at Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C would not cause westbound traffic queues to back up into the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

In a Nov. 17 letter to Kautz, Christopher Hatton, senior vice president of Kimley-Horn, wrote that the firm’s traffic studies indicated that westbound traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of [Stickney Point Road] & US 41.”

The swap of the Siesta roads to the county’s jurisdiction is expected to be concluded in September 2020, County Engineer Spencer Anderson told the county commissioners on Oct. 8.

Underscoring the urgency

This is the opening of the Siesta Key Condominium Council email blast on Nov. 27. Image courtesy of the council

“FDOT’s requirements are intrinsic to the evaluation” of what could occur along Stickney Point Road, the Condo Council’s Nov. 27 email adds. “Decisions made here will affect public safety and the economy of Siesta Key and surrounding areas.”

“The responsibility for Stickney Point [Road] belongs under the jurisdiction of FDOT [from U.S. 41] “completely across the bridge and ending at SR 758,” the email stresses.

“FDOT’s oversight of this segment of SR 72 (Stickney) should not be relinquished,” the email adds.

PLEASE immediately email and indicate that a hearing must be convened on December 11, 2019 and that you are interested in attending,” the email blast emphasizes.

“This is our only opportunity to voice our concerns [to] FDOT,” it continues, adding that an independent agency “should be the controlling voice as to what is feasible traffic-wise on the Stickney Point approach to Siesta Key and on the key.”