Funding is available from the state, the district operations engineer says, and the tentative timeline calls for the work to be completed no later than June 2017
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has proposed a number of improvements for the Jacaranda Boulevard/Venice Avenue roundabout in Venice, all of which its district operations engineer believes can be accomplished with state funding, the Sarasota County Commission learned this week.
One proposed change involves creating a right-turn lane only on westbound Venice Avenue — because a traffic study undertaken for FDOT shows most people traveling west turn right to head toward Interstate 75 — and then making the left lane a through lane.
Although the initial estimate for the changes was about $585,000, L.K. Nandam, FDOT district operations engineer, said on May 24, that does not include the design expense and one further tweak that has been proposed: brick pavers or a similar filler between the temporary curb and the permanent curb to narrow lanes and provide more vehicle separation. Nonetheless, the additional expense should not be a problem, he told the board.
Plans also call for the work order to be released by the end of June, Nandam continued, noting that the maximum amount of time allowed for the completion of the work would be one year.
Among other changes will be additional pavement markings to reinforce lane configurations, enlarging the “Yield” signs and relocating those signs closer to the entry points.
Justin Bansen, a professional engineer with Kittelson & Associates in Orlando — the firm that undertook a study of the roundabout for a report FDOT commissioned — explained that the improvements should reduce by at least 55 percent the number of crashes in the specific areas where improper traffic circulation, as well as entry and exit path overlaps, have been determined to be contributing factors. Nandam called that a “very conservative” estimate.
In the meantime, county staff is working with Nandam and Bansen to schedule a South County presentation of the proposed changes, because the May 24 discussion was in Sarasota.
Commissioner Christine Robinson, who represents South County interests on the board, pointed out that a number of Venice residents had complained to her about the scheduling of the issue on a North County board agenda.
“We used to be hyper-aware of it,” she said of such a situation, “and I think we’ve slipped a lot as to the sensitivities to having South County [business] done in South County.”
Isaac Brownman, the county’s chief engineer, apologized and explained that because the Kittelson study had been made available to the board and the public, staff members “were looking for expediency” in scheduling the discussion, “and it turned out to be a North County meeting.”
Nandam voiced his willingness to repeat the presentation in South County.
County Administrator Tom Harmer explained that that might occur as soon as June 7, when the board would hold its next regular meeting in Venice, at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center.
FDOT and roundabouts
In his opening remarks, Nandam pointed out that with roundabouts having become popular in the United States over the past 10 to 15 years, FDOT has focused on the structures’ ability to improve drivers’ safety. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “most of our high-crash locations in the state of Florida are at signalized intersections.”
About 35 to 40 percent of the fatalities on Florida roads occur at such intersections, he added. Roundabouts achieve a 90-percent reduction in crashes with fatalities and a 75-percent reduction in those with severe injuries, he pointed out.
In regard to the Jacaranda roundabout, Bansen noted that although striping and signage changes were made after the county conducted a 2013 study of crashes associated with the structure, the incidence of collusions has remained pretty constant since the roundabout opened in June 2011.
Nandam said the average is 50 crashes per year, although given the size of the structure and the fact that it has multiple lanes, the number should be 10. Nonetheless, most of the incidents are “fender benders,” he pointed out; no incapacitating injuries or fatalities have been reported.
The average daily traffic count is 35,000 vehicles, he continued, so the roundabout “is the perfect size.” The only section the latest study found to be near capacity, he pointed out, is the eastbound flow on Venice Avenue during the afternoon peak travel time, and that situation generally eases after about 15 minutes.
The problems drivers are experiencing stem from the design, he continued. Because the structure was built to contain three lanes — which were seen as needed in the future, Nandam said — temporary curbing was installed to reduce the lanes to two. When too many lanes are available in a roundabout, he explained, “people tend not to use the right lanes.”
Most of the crashes are occurring at entry/exit points, he added, with the remainder on the higher-volume approaches. In the latter case, he explained, a person who stops to enter the roundabout may be hit by the driver behind behind him, who is not paying attention.
As for speed: Nandam said the Kittelson study showed that some of the fastest moving drivers entering the roundabout were exceeding 30 mph.
As he showed the commissioners slides depicting various traffic scenarios, Nandam explained a proposal to extend the “splitter islands” to maintain better vehicle separation at entry and exit points.
In response to a question from Chair Al Maio, Nandam said he saw no prospect of removing the roundabout and putting a signalized intersection back in its place.
Robinson pointed out that she lives “extremely close to this roundabout,” adding that she attended community meetings when FDOT was considering how best to deal with issues at the intersection. When the roundabout was proposed, she noted, the public was told that the alternative was an intersection like the one at U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, or the one at Cattlemen Road and Bee Ridge Road. “[That] was completely rejected by everybody” who lives in that vicinity of Jacaranda Boulevard, she said. “Nobody wanted a parking lot of pavement that large at that particular time.”
“We’re relying on your expertise to fix [the roundabout],” Commissioner Charles Hines told Nandam and Bansen. “I don’t think anybody wants an intersection there like what we have at Clark Road and U.S. 41.”
The Clark Road/U.S. 41 intersection, Nandam told him, is one of FDOT’s highest crash areas.