Final formal step taken by County Commission to effect its assumption of authority over Siesta Key roads, beginning in September

Board approves FDOT agreement, which secretary signed in February

This map shows the portions of Siesta roads that will become responsibility of Sarasota County late this summer. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On July 7, the swap of authority over Siesta Key roads from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to Sarasota County took another significant step forward.

The Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved a formal agreement with the FDOT secretary as part of its July 7 vote on its Consent Agenda of routine business items.

Months ago, the county’s Public Works Department director, Spencer Anderson, reported that he expected the transfer would not be finalized until September. Officially, it will not. A portion of the agreement says FDOT will provide the county with “maintained right of way maps” for the affected portion of Stickney Point Road, as well as State Road 758, by Sept. 1. Then, the document indicates, the swap will be a done deal.

The agreement added, “FDOT shall retain the responsibility for completing any permit applications submitted to FDOT prior to the date … of transfer.”

The idea for the swap originated as Sarasota County leaders were trying to find a way to accelerate improvements on River Road in South County, which commissioners had sought unsuccessfully for decades. FDOT staff had explained that as long as River Road was under county authority, the department could not justify moving up the scheduling of that road’s widening or other improvements.

In September 2017, then-County Administrator Tom Harmer announced that staff had begun talking with FDOT representatives about the potential of assuming control over roads on Siesta Key, if FDOT would take control of North River Road.

FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault. Image courtesy FDOT

A document included in the July 7 agenda packet shows that Kevin J. Thibault, secretary of FDOT, signed the final approval papers on Feb. 18.

On Jan. 28, a memo from Ed Hutchinson, manager of FDOT’s Transportation Data Analytics Office in Tallahassee, to L.K. Nandam, secretary of FDOT’s Division One — which includes Sarasota County — laid out the formal details of the proposal. For example, Hutchinson noted that the transfer of State Road 758 would encompass 5.761 miles of Siesta Drive and Midnight Pass Road.

Additionally, the document pointed to the transfer of State Road 72/Stickney Point Road from the Midnight Pass Road intersection (mile point 0.000) to the U.S. 41 intersection, which has a total length of 0.961 miles.

FDOT will maintain authority over the two drawbridges leading to Siesta Key, along with a bridge over a waterway on Siesta Drive — the so-called “hump bridge” — and a second bridge, which was built over a canal that flows under Midnight Pass Road south of the Higel Avenue intersection.

Hutchinson advised Nandam, “Should you concur with the proposed action upon your review, please forward this request to the FDOT Secretary for review and approval.”

A second document included in the July 7 board packet went from Hutchinson to Tom Byron, assistant FDOT secretary for Strategic Development. That confirmed the District One request for approval of the road transfers, including the state’s taking over control of North River Road from U.S. 41 to Interstate 75, a total of 5.302 miles.

“Sarasota County approved the roadway transfer through County Resolution (No. 2019-206) on October 8th, 2019,” a Feb. 11 memo pointed out.

The delay from October 2019 to February, the memo added, was a result of FDOT’s scheduling of a public hearing on the Siesta part of the road swap. Conducted in December 2019, that hearing drew about 85 people to Siesta Key Chapel, just north of Siesta Village.

Many of the 19 speakers expressed concern that Stickney Point Road is a vital hurricane evacuation route for residents of south Siesta Key, just as River Road is critical as an evacuation route for South County residents and even people living in Charlotte County, in an area close to the Sarasota County line.

Attendees especially were concerned about plans to construct the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, with hundreds of new vehicle trips per day expected after that project has been completed.

Attendees begin to fill up the Fellowship Hall at Siesta Key Chapel for the Dec. 11, 2019 public hearing. File photo

A staff memo included in the July 7 County Commission meeting packet noted, “The public record from [the hearing] was part of the approval package provided to the FDOT Secretary.”

The Florida Second District Court of Appeal issued a ruling a couple of weeks ago that cleared the way for construction of Siesta Promenade, which has been designed with 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space.

Kyle Purvis, administrator of District One’s Transportation Data Analytics Division, had advised the attendees at the beginning of the December 2019 hearing that Siesta Promenade should not be a focus of comments that evening, as it was not even under construction. “This public hearing will only address the jurisdictional transfer of the roadway,” he stressed.

Improvements and maintenance

The swap still includes plans for FDOT to resurface Midnight Pass Road from the Stickney Point Road intersection to Shadow Lawn Way — scheduled for the 2022 fiscal year; improvements to the almost 90-degree intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, which has been the scene of many accidents through the years; and a drainage project on Higel Avenue from Little Pond Lane to Somerset Drive.

FDOT has budgeted a total of $3,884,195 for the resurfacing project, according to the July 12 update of its Five Year Work Program.

The department will allocate $360,138 to the county for the work at the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue intersection, the Five Year Work Plan points out. That project is planned for FDOT’s 2021 fiscal year, which began on July 1.

This graphic, included with the FDOT materials, shows the drawbridge on Siesta Drive, in green, and the area to the right, which the county will maintain, though FDOT will retain jurisdiction over it. Image courtesy FDOT

Additionally, the county is to be responsible for upkeep of an area north of Siesta Drive and just east of the drawbridge to Siesta. That property, which has a view of downtown Sarasota, was popular for its views of the water and for fishing prior to the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The area officially is within the boundaries of the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (TIITF), documents in the commission’s agenda packet explained.

A July 7 staff memo provided to the board noted, “[T]he roadway elements within this area will be maintained by the County in accordance with Title 23 U.S. Code, Section 116 and Federal Highway Administration regulations,” although FDOT will retain jurisdiction of the property.