Major City of Sarasota utility project to be included as part of roundabout construction at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue

City Commission approves preliminary agreement with FDOT for $1.3 million replacement of water and sewer main lines

An FDOT graphic presented in March 2018 shows the tentative plans for the roundabout. Image courtesy FDOT

With the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) proceeding in its planning for a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue in the city of Sarasota, the City Commission this week unanimously approved a major utility project in conjunction with that initiative.

The item was included on the board’s Dec. 2 Consent Agenda No. 1 of routine business matters.

Formally, it called for spending $1,316,350 to replace existing water and sewer main lines in the area of the planned roundabout. A memo in the backup agenda material from city Utilities Director William Riebe explained that FDOT expects to start construction of the roundabout in the fall of 2020. “The existing water and sewer mains within the FDOT right-of-way are at the end of their useful life and need to be replaced pursuant to the City’s approved Capital Improvement Program,” he pointed out in the memo.

Additionally, he noted, the estimated expense is less than the $1,560,000 the City Commission already has approved for that specific utility work as part of the city’s budget.

Undertaking the water and sewer mains replacement in conjunction with roundabout construction, instead of the city’s pursuing the work on its own, “will reduce the amount of disruption to the community and will allow for better coordination of the work,” Riebe added.

If the work were not included in the roundabout project, he emphasized, the city would have to replace the water mains before the roundabout construction began. In that event, he pointed out, the water main replacement would be going on at the same time as the roundabout work at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road, “further impacting traffic flow and possibly extending [the timeline for] the completion [of the U.S. 41/Fruitville] roundabout.”

This aerial graphic shows a broader view of the area around the proposed site of the roundabout at Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Riebe further noted that the agreement for which he was seeking City Commission approval on Dec. 2 “sets the framework” for the utility initiative “to move forward as part of the FDOT project. Under the agreement, FDOT must issue its official cost estimate for the work. If the cost estimate is not acceptable, the City has the right to terminate the agreement and perform the work on its own. The official cost estimate and the obligation of funds to FDOT will be presented to the City Commission sometime in early 2020,” he added.

Formally, the agreement the board approved on Dec. 2 says the city will prepare, at its expense, the final engineering design, plans, and technical provisions of the project by Jan. 15, 2020.

The agreement says FDOT will incorporate that package in its contract for the roundabout initiative and then “procure a contractor.”

The FDOT webpages for the Gulfstream/U.S. 41 roundabout show that, as of late March 2018, plans called for the required Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study to be completed in the summer of 2018. Then, the design plans were to be finished in the spring of this year, with construction starting in the fall of this year.

FDOT’s current Five Year Work Program, updated on Dec. 4, shows the PD&E study is still underway. The latest schedule calls for advertising for construction bids in May 2020, with a contract to be awarded in June 2020.

This is the roundabout schedule updated as of Dec. 4 in FDOT’s Five Year Work Program. Image courtesy FDOT

During a March 2018 informational meeting in Sarasota regarding the plans for the U.S. 41/Gulfstream roundabout, FDOT representatives provided a handout to the public. It explained the department’s rationale for the project. “With vehicles traveling at high speeds,” the handout said, “US 41 acts as a barrier between Downtown Sarasota and the Bayfront. This creates an unfriendly pedestrian environment.”

The handout added, “A roundabout would force traffic to slow down — resulting in a more comfortable environment for pedestrians/bicyclists as they move across US 41. The City of Sarasota, with input from the community, identified roundabouts along US 41 as a way to slow traffic down and improve the pedestrian/bicycle connectivity between Downtown and the Bayfront.”

This chart is included on the March 27, 2018 FDOT handout for the informational meeting in Sarasota. Image courtesy FDOT

Nonetheless, over the past several years, leaders of the Town of Longboat Key have expressed concerns about the roundabout, fearing it ultimately will create longer delays for traffic heading to and from St. Armands Key and Longboat Key.