Motorists asked to find alternate routes, with road closures planned
On June 12, installation of a mini roundabout will begin at the intersection of Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard on Siesta Key, Sarasota County staff has announced.
“Beginning June 12, Higel Avenue from Mangrove Point Road to Midnight Pass Road, and Ocean Boulevard from Gleason Avenue to Higel Avenue on Siesta Key will be closed” for the project, a June 6 advisory says.
Signage already has been installed in the area, alerting drivers to the upcoming work.
“Motorists are encouraged to follow detour signs, seek alternative routes and take caution when approaching the construction area,” the county advisory adds. “The project is anticipated to be completed by June 23,” it notes.
The intersection of Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard “has a history of crashes,” the advisory points out. County Public Works staff believes that changing the intersection control from use of a stop sign to a roundabout will improve safety for those who travel through the area, the county release adds.
As The Sarasota News Leader reported in April, Donald DeBerry, senior manager of the county’s Transportation Division, had informed the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce about the plans for the roundabout installation, noting his expectation that the work would get underway to in mid- to late June.
During an April 2022 SKA presentation, Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, explained that the mini roundabout would not be a permanent feature. He further noted that it could be installed for “a very low cost.”
Anderson described the Higel-Ocean intersection as “a really tough spot.” Drivers heading east on Ocean must yield to traffic heading north from Higel, which can cause confusion for people unfamiliar with the traffic pattern. The segment of Higel south of the Ocean Boulevard intersection leads into a residential area and to the entrance of the Out-of-Door Academy’s Lower School, at the Reid Street intersection.
Additionally, residents and regular visitors often take a west turn onto Mangrove Point Road from Midnight Pass Road and then a north turn on Higel to head up to Ocean, if they plan to drive toward Siesta Village.
“We’re trying to be innovative to a certain extent,” Anderson explained to the SKA members during that meeting. “This is a very small area. [The mini roundabout] should be a good solution.”
Last year, the News Leader learned, DeBerry provided a Siesta resident a link to the website of one of the vendors who supplies materials for the type of roundabout county staff plans at the intersection: https://vortexroundaboutscom.wordpress.com/our-services/.
On its website, Vortex explains that it “works with Departments of Transportation at the Federal, State and Local level to promote the global use of roundabouts. We are the exclusive licensee of the modular roundabout technology developed via the [U.S. Department of Transportation] USDOT Small Business Innovative Research program by ZKxKZ.”
On May 12, the News Leader learned, county staff issued a bid notice, saying that it intended to award a one-year contract to ZKxKZ LLC “for the provision of Mini Vortex Roundabout Kits.” That notice added, “In the event respondents demonstrate the ability to supply the same or substantially similar products and/or services, the County may, in its sole discretion, elect to cancel this sole source [procurement process] and advertise a competitive solicitation.”
The notice also explained, “Per correspondence from ZKxKZ LLC dated April 25, 2023, ZKxKZ LLC’s products have unique set of characteristics covered under issued patents.”
On its website, ZKxKZ says it “has developed a low cost recycled plastic [mini roundabout] system designed to greatly reduce the time required for installation.” Moreover, it notes, “The modular components of the system allow a damaged section to be replaced in minutes with a socket wrench.”
The deadline for any interested vendors to respond to the notice was May 17.
Only two companies viewed the notice, other than the News Leader, bid documents show. They were Coastal Palms Contracting in St. Pete Beach and BESI. The latter apparently is BESI Transportation LLC, which is based in Jacksonville, as indicated in a News Leader online search.
DeBerry of the Transportation Division did confirm for the News Leader that ZKxKZ is handling the Siesta undertaking.
On June 2, Anderson sent the county commissioners an update about the upcoming work, writing, “This is a pilot project using a fabricated system which installs on the existing pavement (link to a brief video on the product: https://youtu.be/UEdzeUF9V9I). With some added signs and road striping, the current stop sign-controlled T intersection with limited sight distances will be converted to the flow of a roundabout. Large trucks with wheel bases too long to navigate the roundabout can simply drive [over the top of it.] We are excited about implementing this system to improve traffic flow and safety at this challenging intersection.”
The video shows an installation of a mini roundabout with the ZKxKZ technology.
Anderson explained that the project timeline “was chosen to fit in between the end of the school year and the 4th of July. I have approved the intersection of Higel/Ocean to be closed during construction to provide appropriate safety for our women and men working on this project. The road closure is similar to traffic control implemented during the recent drainage project that finished earlier this year. As the work progresses, closure areas will be modified to minimize detours, as possible.”