FDOT turns down request for safety measures in Midnight Pass Road curve

A caution sign alerts eastbound drivers to lower their speed as they approach a curve residents call dangerous on Midnight Pass Road. Photo by Rachel Hackney

The Florida Department of Transportation has turned down a Sarasota County Commission request for a reduction in the speed limit and installation of reflective pavement markers along a Midnight Pass Road curve that residents say has been the site of numerous accidents.

However, District One Secretary Billy Hattaway wrote in a June 15 letter to commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson that FDOT would add reflective sheeting to the supports of the signs warning motorists approaching the curve from both directions to reduce their speed.

“That treatment will effectively supplement the chevrons along the curve,” Hattaway added.

Regarding the reflective pavement markers, Hattaway wrote, “Similar treatment used at another location along Midnight Pass Road was criticized by residents in the vicinity due to the noise generated by cars riding over the markers.”

During an interview June 20, Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key, told The Sarasota News Leader, “I’m disappointed [about Hattaway’s response], but I don’t think there’s a whole lot we can do at this point.”

Patterson said she understood FDOT had certain standards to which it had to adhere in judging how to respond to requests. The county had its own standards for road issues, she added.

“We’re certainly more flexible [than FDOT] when we’re familiar with the situation,” she said, but “I was surprised he wasn’t flexible about the reflectors [on the road].”

SKA President Catherine Luckner was traveling out-of-state and could not be reached for comment.

The curve is in the area where runner Donna Chen was killed by an allegedly drunken driver on Jan. 7. It is near the Shadow Lawn Way intersection and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.

“Our review of the crash data did not find a pattern of crashes involving motorists leaving the roadway because of the curve,” Hattaway wrote in the June 15 letter.

“The crash referenced in your letter involved a motorist traveling at a high rate of speed,” he added, referring to Blake C. Talman, 23, of Bradenton, who has been charged with vehicular homicide in Chen’s death. “Our review of this segment of Midnight Pass Road confirmed the current 40 mph posted speed is appropriate.”

The FDOT caution signs facing traffic heading into the curve indicate a 30 mph speed limit.

Wendy Rose, community affairs manager for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, said in February that deputies had told her that because those are official FDOT signs, a deputy could write a speeding citation to a driver exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.

During the Feb. 3 Siesta Key Association meeting, residents requested the county seek improved safety measures for that portion of the road. Steve Grantham, treasurer of the Siesta Cove Association, said his neighborhood had been “profoundly affected by [Chen’s death], and we think something has to be done.”

He sought the SKA board’s support for the installation of radar signs facing vehicles on both approaches to the curve, to remind drivers to slow down.

Patterson, who was present at the SKA meeting, told the audience the County Commission already had requested that County Administrator Randall Reid work with the county’s engineering staff and FDOT “to see what can be done.”