Sarasota County staff to handle improvements to 90-degree curve at Siesta’s Higel Avenue-Siesta Drive intersection as in-house project

$359,138 from FDOT to be used for signal boxes on one or more sections of county roadway

About three years ago, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) gave Sarasota County $359,138 for a project to improve motorists’ safety in navigating an almost 90-degree curve at the Siesta Key intersection of Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive.

That resulted from negotiations during discussions about swapping the county’s jurisdiction over North River Road to the state, in exchange for the county’s assuming control of roads on Siesta Key. The exchange was planned as a means of securing long-desired improvements to North River Road. As long as that route was under the county’s authority, state officials had pointed out, River Road could not be put on a priority list for improvements.

The Roadway Transfer Agreement was executed by the county and FDOT on Feb. 18, 2020, a county staff memo notes.

While River Road has seen its share of accidents through the years, the curve on Siesta Key also has been the focus of public concerns because of crashes. As a result, the Road Transfer Agreement included the fact that FDOT would be responsible for paying for the Siesta safety initiative. On Dec. 8, 2020, the County Commission approved what is called a Local Area Project agreement with FDOT to make that FDOT commitment a formal one.

This week, however, the County Commission voted unanimously to terminate the funding agreement with FDOT for what has been christened the Higel Avenue Safety Improvement Project. That decision came in the form of the board members’ unanimous approval of their Consent Agenda of routine business items, during their regular meeting on Sept. 13.

The reason for that action, a county staff memo explains, is that “construction can be handled more cost-effectively by in-house Field Services staff … The combination of in-house non-reimbursable labor, need for sole source vendors and competitive procurements conflicts with [Local Agency Program] federal grant requirements,” the memo adds.

To offset the reduction of state funding for the initiative, the memo says, FDOT has committed to the county’s Public Works Department staff that it will provide “an equitable supply of traffic signal equipment” — signal boxes — that can be used on county-maintained roads.

Then the memo points out that staff will ensure that the $359,138 from FDOT will be appropriated in the department’s

2023 Fiscal Year Work Program, which went into effect in July, for the purchase of signal equipment for one or more of the following ranked locations:

  • 1. U.S. 41 from the Stickney Point Road intersection to north of Wood Street.
  • 2. Fruitville Road from the U.S. 301 intersection to Coburn Road.
  • 3. U.S. 41 from Beneva Road to Proctor Road.
  • 4. Clark Road from Bee Ridge Road to Interstate 75.
  • 5. Honore Avenue from Richardson Road to Bee Ridge Road.

In October 2019, during a County Commission discussion about the road swap, Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, discussed the Higel Avenue-Siesta Drive project.

Graphics provided to the board members in advance of that Oct. 8, 2019 meeting showed plans for replacing the existing signage and guardrails with 108 feet of new guardrails on both the north and south approaches to the curve.

Additionally, a 225-foot traffic separator would be installed through the curve, and sod would replace 50 square yards of asphalt in the northwest quadrant of the intersection. The latter feature essentially would help smooth out the curve, based on the graphic’s details.

Later, staff reported that it hoped to see the project get underway in September 2021. In response to a News Leader request for more details at that time, Anderson wrote in an email, “We are currently procuring materials and finalizing maintenance of traffic plans. [Those plans involve measures to keep traffic flowing in the area during construction.] The work will be completed at night, closing Higel [Avenue] at the curve and detouring traffic around,” Anderson added. “Coordination and information will be provided with/to affected residents. The night work is expected to last 1 week.”

Then, earlier this year, during the April 7 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Anderson pointed out that staff still was awaiting some materials for the Higel-Siesta Drive project. Anderson also noted that drainage improvements would be part of that initiative.

The News Leader this week asked for an updated construction timeline from Anderson and his staff, but no details were available prior to the deadline for this issue.