FDOT and Sarasota County agree on spending $3.5 million each for River Road project as part of negotiations over potential road swap

Interim Sarasota County public works director provides update during joint meeting of Sarasota and Charlotte county commissions

A graphic shows the segments of River Road, State Road 72 and State Road 758 that would be the focus of a proposed road swap with the state. Image courtesy Sarasota County

More details emerged this week about the proposed swap of River Road to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in exchange for Sarasota County taking over the portion of State Road 758 on Siesta Key, as well as part of State Road 72 (Stickney Point Road).

FDOT has included $3.5 million in its proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year for updating of permits and construction plans, as well as the acquisition of right of way, for the proposed improvements of River Road from U.S. 41 to Interstate 75, Spencer Anderson, interim public works director for Sarasota County, announced on March 21 during a joint session of the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissions.

The county would have to match that money, he added.

For the past several months, he pointed out, county staff and FDOT representatives have been “pretty heavily and very actively” negotiating the road swap. The plans for the Atlanta Braves to relocate to a new Spring Training stadium complex in the West Villages outside North Port and the increase in the number of residential developments in the vicinity of River Road “have really motivated efforts to get something done,” Anderson said.

Just last week, during the Sarasota County Commission’s regular meeting on March 13, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reported, “We had very good discussions with both our district [FDOT] secretary and the [FDOT secretary]” about the road swap proposal. “It is progressing, and we have received some early but seemingly positive feedback.”

That news came two weeks after the Sarasota County board members had talked about the fact that their negotiating team was closer than it ever had been to concluding the deal with FDOT representatives.

A graphic shows investments made in River Road as of the spring of 2017. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When former County Administrator Tom Harmer first reported on the potential road swap last fall, he explained that if River Road were under state control, the likelihood of the state funding the needed improvements would improve significantly.

One sticking point had been the maintenance of the two drawbridges leading to Siesta Key, but Commissioner Paul Caragiulo noted on Feb. 27 that those structures would not become the county’s responsibility under the terms of the deal.

“So we’re being patient” while awaiting the state response, Anderson told the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissions this week.

If the state takes over River Road, Anderson continued, it would consider funding the improvements from I-75 to West Villages Boulevard. Then Sarasota County would handle the rest of the work from that point to U.S. 41.

The county project likely would begin in 2021, he added, but it would be sometime after 2024 before FDOT would begin its part of the work.

Finally, until the improvements were completed on the portion of River Road south of U.S. 41, Anderson said, the county would continue to maintain that segment.

He did point out that State Road 758 — Siesta Drive and Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key — “is a very constrained road environment,” similar to Manasota Key Road. Not much room exists for improvements, he added.

Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch. Image courtesy Charlotte County

“River Road is critical all the way, all the way down to Placida,” Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch pointed out. “That’s our main evacuation route.”

A lot of Charlotte County’s development is taking place on the west side of U.S. 41, he noted, even though the rapidly developing West Villages is on the east side of the highway.

“Anything we can do,” he told the Sarasota County commissioners, “we’re here.”