John Ringling Boulevard Multi-Use Recreational Trail project to get underway this summer

City Commission formally approves funding for project from Coon Key Bridge to Washington Drive

An engineering drawing shows plans for the trees along part of the MURT on John Ringling Boulevard. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

With $838,823 in funding assistance from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the City of Sarasota will begin construction this summer of the West Area Multi-Use Recreational Trail from Coon Key Bridge along John Ringling Boulevard to Washington Drive on St. Armands Key.

The work is scheduled to take 15 months, according to a staff memo.

The City Commission voted 3-1 on March 5 to approve the $1,594,684 total expense, with the remainder of the money coming from the penny sales tax revenue the city collects and proceeds from the Local Option Fuel Tax (LOFT).

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Hagen Brody both pulled the item from the board’s Consent Agenda No. 2 of routine business matters to ask distinctly different questions during the March 5 meeting. Freeland Eddie was interested in the source of funding to supplement the FDOT grant, while Brody voiced a preference for palms instead of canopy trees for the MURT.

Brody ended up casting the lone “No” vote, while Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch missed the meeting because of illness.

“We’re replacing all the trees along this portion of the road,” Brody said of John Ringling Boulevard. “This is really the gateway onto St. Armands and Lido Key and Longboat Key. My thought was that these might be palms instead of canopy trees,” he said, as the keys have a tropical atmosphere.

“I thought it would look really, really beautiful to have a palm-tree lined entrance to that area,” he added.

Assistant City Engineer Daniel Ohrenstein explained that palms will be planted at the beginning and end of the MURT.

“I think it would look prettier with palm trees lining the entire way,” Brody responded, though he conceded they do not “provide as much shade.”

Ohrenstein then told him that during two public meetings city staff had hosted about the project, people had expressed the desire for shade along the MURT. The first of those sessions, he added, was held on Nov. 3, 2016, and it featured a focus on the landscaping plans.

City Manager Tom Barwin also pointed out that “10-foot, beefy paved paths” will be constructed on both the north and south sides of John Ringling Boulevard from Coon Key Bridge to Washington Drive. He hoped the Coon Key Bridge would be replaced not long after the MURT was completed, he added.

A graphic shows the location of the project. City of Sarasota

However, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw explained that FDOT is not planning to begin the first phase of the bridge replacement project until 2020. It takes about five years, typically, she noted, from the time the Project Development & Environment (PD&E) study starts before construction begins.

Later in the meeting, DavisShaw noted that city staff is asking FDOT to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian lanes into that project and, potentially, room for a shuttle service similar to the i-Ride in downtown Sarasota. That electronic vehicle ferries passengers for free.

Regarding the John Ringling Boulevard MURT: Barwin also told the commissioners, “We expect and hope that it will be very popular,” given the number of people who walk and bike beside the Ringling Bridge. “This will really open up that artery [for the public],” he said.

The total length of the project will be 2,700 linear feet, according to the staff memo provided to the commission in advance of the March 5 meeting. The project also will include the planting of bushes to protect the privacy of residents on adjacent parcels, the memo noted, along with the installation of conduit and light pole bases “for a lighting project to follow at a later date as well as the installation of [bus] shelters and fiber optic conduit for future fiber optic connection.”