Plans for widening eastern Fruitville Road moving forward, thanks to recent County Commission votes

County staff working on improved levels of service for new developments in eastern part of county

The Sarasota County Commission has approved another step in the effort to widen Fruitville Road from Debrecen Road to Lorraine Road in the eastern part of the county.

Debrecen, which is just east of Sarasota Central Boulevard, is on the western edge of The Founders Club.

Additionally, the board members unanimously have approved future thoroughfare maps for the East County road network that call for the widening of Fruitville to four lanes from Lorraine Road to the planned new north-south roadway, which will be called Bourneside Boulevard from University Parkway to Fruitville Road. Those maps would be part of an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the county. The Aug. 31 vote authorized staff to transmit that proposed amendment to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for review, as required by state law. Provided that the DEO staff signs off on the proposed changes, county Planner Brett Harrington said, a public hearing on the formal adoption of Comprehensive Plan Amendment 2021-G would be conducted on Oct. 25.

Further, on Aug. 31, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, explained that if citizens approve another 15-year extension of the county’s penny sales tax — or “Surtax” — program, as they will be asked to do on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot, and they also agree to allow county staff to issue bonds that would be paid back by the Surtax IV revenue, it is possible that the widening of Fruitville Road to four lanes from Sarasota Center Boulevard to Lorraine Road, could begin as early as October 2023. That date marks the start of the county’s 2024 fiscal year.

If not that soon, Wiggins said, then she would expect the work would begin in the 2025 fiscal year, which would start on Oct. 1, 2024. “The design will be completed,” she added.

Plans also call for the erection of a traffic signal at the intersection of Fruitville and Lorraine.

It usually takes 18 to 24 months to build such a road, Wiggins pointed out. With Fruitville, however, she noted, “We do have to maintain the two lanes of traffic,” so that initiative could take longer.

Over the past couple of years, during public hearings regarding applications for new developments in the eastern part of the county, residents routinely have cited the increasing congestion on Fruitville Road as a factor that the commissioners needed to consider.

As part of the Aug. 31 hearing on proposed changes to the county’s Future Thoroughfare Maps, Sara Lewis, a Myakka Road resident, stressed to the commissioners that it took her and Becky Ayech, leader of the Miakka Community Club, an hour that day to drive from Ayech’s Verna Road home to the downtown Sarasota County Administration Center.

“We sit in that traffic every morning,” Lewis said. “It makes it very hard to make an appointment,” she added, as no one can know with certainty how long it will take to drive on Fruitville Road’s two lanes to reach a specific destination.

Nonetheless, Lewis predicted that adding more lanes to Fruitville will result in just more vehicles stacked in line.

She blamed drivers from Manatee County who use Lorraine Road and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to reach Fruitville Road.

(Lakewood Ranch Boulevard runs parallel with Interstate 75 on part of its route to Fruitville.)

East of Lorraine, Lewis said, the traffic congestion ceases.

Ayech also addressed the commissioners. Having long been protective of the character of the eastern part of the county, Ayech said, “A four-lane road is not a rural vista.”

Details of an interlocal agreement with Windward

In their first action last week regarding Fruitville Road, on Aug. 30, in voting unanimously in favor of their Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with the Windward at Lakewood Ranch Community Development District. That will give the county $751,960 for the design, engineering and permitting for the Fruitville Road project from Debrecen Road to Lorraine Road.

On Aug. 26, 2020, the commissioners approved an initial interlocal agreement with the Windward District.

Section 2 of that document says, “The purpose of this Agreement is to set forth the Parties’ respective agreements, consents, understandings, contributions, duties, obligations, and funding of the Project.”

The project will entail widening Fruitville from two lanes to four, with the addition of bike lanes, roadway lighting, “public and private utility adjustments” and other features, including the construction of turn lanes at the intersection of Fruitville and Lorraine roads, an Aug. 30 county staff memo explains.

Further, the memo points out that county staff and the Windward District collaborated on a capacity evaluation analysis of the intersection of The Founders Club Boulevard and Fruitville Road. “The results showed a roundabout intersection would be the safest and most efficient method of traffic control,” the memo notes.

Additionally, a traffic study conducted at Fruitville’s intersection with Sarasota Center Boulevard found that a westbound right turn lane would be necessary in the future, based on the expected development on Blue Lake Road, the memo says.

Moreover, a roundabout could be part of the design for the intersection of Laceleaf Boulevard and Fruitville Road, the memo notes.

The design and permitting — plus the necessary appraisal work related to county right of way acquisition — is expected to take about 10 months, the memo says.

Representatives of the Windward District and county staff also will collaborate on public meetings and/or workshops, the memo points out. “Specific outreach … with the Founders Club … is ongoing,” the memo adds.

After the design work has been completed, the memo continues, “[C]onstruction funding options will be developed for the [commission’s] consideration.”

A county Capital Projects Department fact sheet about the Fruitville Road project from Debrecen to Lorraine explains that the distance is approximately 1.5 miles. The sidewalks on both sides of the road will be 6 feet wide, the document says, and 7-foot-wide bike lanes will be buffered from the vehicular traffic.

Further, extensions of county pipelines for potable water and reclaimed water will be part of that undertaking, the fact sheet points out.

The total expense of the design contract, which was awarded to the Stantec consulting firm in Sarasota, is $1,380,000, the fact sheet notes. A separate county document — from the Public Works Department — says the cost of the design and engineering work, right of way acquisition and project management will be $2,808,059.

The Comprehensive Plan amendment

During the Aug. 31 public hearing on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, Transportation Planner Kwamena Sankah explained the changes it would incorporate on new thoroughfare maps that have been proposed to reduce traffic congestion on roads that will serve new communities in the eastern part of the county. Those neighborhoods would be developed in accord with the county’s 2050 Plan, which was created 20 years ago to guide residential growth east of Interstate 75.

Staff hired the Tampa consulting firm ADEAS-Q to analyze that road network, Sankah noted.

The project considered the levels of service for several roads, including the following segments, he pointed out:

  • Bee Ridge Road from Lorraine Road to North-South Roadway B.
  • Fruitville Road from Lorraine to Verna Road.
  • Singletary Road from Verna Road to the Manatee County line.
  • The realigned Bourneside Boulevard.

Rex Jensen, CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch — the developer of Lakewood Ranch, as well as the proposed Lakewood Ranch Southeast communities planned for northeastern Sarasota County — explained to the county Planning Commission on Aug. 4 and to the County Commission on Aug. 31 that Bourneside Boulevard would need to be shifted farther east to accommodate Lakewood Ranch Southeast.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, Sankah continued on Aug. 31, calls for all arterial roads, collectors and local roads serving 2050 communities to be developed “with an adequate number of travel lanes to maintain county-adopted level of service standards.” That statement would replace language in the Comprehensive Plan that says all of the arterial, collector and local roads starting half-a-mile east of Bee Ridge Extension “and its proposed connection to Lorraine Road and North South Roadway A shall be no more than 2 travel lanes.”

“Level of service” means the perception of a driver in regard to how well traffic is flowing on a given stretch of road. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) assigns letters for level of service, with A indicating the least congestion and F the worst congestion.

The results of the ADEAS-Q analysis showed that a four-lane Fruitville Road from Lorraine Road to North-South Roadway B would be “Borderline Congested” by 2045, with a level of service of D. (“North-South Roadway B” is the designation for the route south of Fruitville that originally was a continuation of what will be Bourneside Boulevard north of Fruitville.)

The expected level of service for two lanes of Fruitville from Bourneside Boulevard to Verna Road would be “Borderline Congested,” as well, with level of service C.

Thus, the staff recommendations call for the new Future Thoroughfare Maps to show Fruitville Road as four lanes from Lorraine Road to Bourneside Boulevard, instead of two; four lanes of Bourneside Boulevard from University Parkway to Fruitville Road, instead of two; and adding a two-lane minor collector from Verna Road to the Manatee County line.

The Federal Highway Administration says minor collector roads “should … [b]e spaced at intervals, consistent with population density, to collect traffic from local roads and bring all developed areas within a reasonable distance of a collector road; (2) provide service to the remaining smaller communities; and (3) link the locally important traffic generators with their rural hinterland.”

The county staff report also notes that plans already are underway to construct four lanes of Lorraine Road from Fruitville to Palmer Boulevard. Additionally, FDOT has included in its current Five Year Work Program a project that would add lanes to the Fruitville interchange with I-75.