County staff continuing outreach to residents and business owners on the island
Sarasota County’s Public Works Department director, with the help of the county’s Communications Department, has launched a public survey in an effort to gain more views on a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key.
The survey will be available until Oct. 31, a county webpage points out. The county’s Public Works Department staff plans to present the findings to the County Commission in November, the webpage adds.
Spencer Anderson, the Public Works director, notified the commissioners about the survey in an Oct. 5 email, saying it would go live the following day.
Anderson appeared before the board members on Sept. 22 with a presentation regarding the interest of the District One staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in reviving the roundabout proposal, which FDOT first aired in 2015. FDOT is willing to commit $1 million to the roundabout construction, Anderson said on Sept. 22, with the county responsible for completing the design that already is underway. The total design expense would be $360,000, he noted.
As a result of the discussion, the commissioners directed Anderson to engage in more outreach with Siesta residents and business owners.
In his Oct. 5 email, Anderson wrote that he and Carolyn Eastwood, director of the county’s Capital Projects Department, made a presentation to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on Oct. 1.
While they had limited time on the agenda, he continued, the comments “voiced during the meeting leaned in support of [an] improved signalized intersection [instead of a roundabout]. We provided comment forms to the participants and will hopefully receive some additional feedback over the next week or so. I did receive one email of support on the roundabout this late last week,” Anderson added.
“In an effort to obtain additional public input,” he wrote, “we have worked with Communications to establish a ‘Fact Sheet’ and brief electronic survey that will be made available to the public by noon tomorrow, Tuesday, October 6. A copy of material similar to that presented at the SKA meeting is also available on the survey website hosted within scgov.net,” he noted.
This is the link to the materials, he pointed out: https://www.scgov.net/government/public-works/transportation-planning/siesta-key-intersection-survey.
“This information and survey will be advertised by Communications via social media and direct email to additional stakeholders around Siesta Key,” Anderson added.
The county webpage says, “The intersection of State Road 758/Midnight Pass Road at Beach Road on Siesta Key is programmed for improvements in the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) five-year work plan.”
The affected section of State Road 758 — Midnight Pass Road — is one segment of the Siesta Key road network over which the county is assuming authority later this year as part of a Road Transfer Agreement with FDOT, the webpage explains. FDOT is taking over the section of River Road between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75, which will enable the department to speed up much-needed improvements to that corridor, commissioners and county staff have pointed out. Sarasota County Public Works staff members “have closely coordinated [with FDOT] on the [Beach Road/Midnight Pass Road] intersection improvement project,” the webpage continues. “Within that coordination, there was discussion to reconsider the roundabout alternative.”
Subsequent communication with FDOT staff has led to “an opportunity for the county to further pursue community input and potential design of a roundabout,” the webpage adds.
If, following public outreach, the webpage points out, the commissioners determine that a roundabout is “the preferred alternative, the county would fund and complete design of the roundabout for delivery to FDOT by October 2021.”
“FDOT would fund construction of all improvements beginning in spring 2022,” the webpage notes.
A cool reception
SKA President Catherine Luckner told The Sarasota News Leader that Anderson called her “last-minute” last week, asking about the possibility of getting a spot on the nonprofit’s Oct. 1 agenda. It was the first in-person meeting the organization had planned since the novel coronavirus pandemic began in March in Florida.
About 40 members were present for the session, she noted. Anderson showed them a number of slides, which illustrated improvements that could be made to the signalized intersection, in lieu of a roundabout.
Most of the comments he heard from attendees, Luckner continued, were focused on the high pedestrian use of the Beach Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection. She told the News Leader that if island residents believe pedestrians will be safe trying to get through that intersection with a roundabout in place, then their support of the proposal will increase.
“I just don’t see it,” she said. “I don’t think [SKA] members can see it either,” she added, referring to a roundabout’s functioning smoothly for people on foot as well as in vehicles.
During a separate Oct. 6 telephone interview, Mason Tush, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and a member of the family that owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, said Anderson as of that date had not contacted Chamber leaders about meeting with them.
During the late spring, Tush added, he did participate in a Zoom session with Anderson, when Anderson broached the revival of the roundabout proposal.
Tush did note one concern, which long-time Siesta Chamber Director Mark Smith also pointed out to the News Leader in a separate telephone interview on Oct. 6: If traffic backs up on Midnight Pass Road because the Stickney Point Road drawbridge is open, “What happens at the roundabout?” as Tush put it. Will the motor vehicles just stop in the roundabout, Tush asked.
That is an issue that county staff will have to consider, Tush and Smith pointed out.
Smith also concurred with Luckner about pedestrian safety, noting that many visitors park at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, which is located at 5615 Midnight Pass Road, and then walk over to Siesta Public Beach. Those pedestrians use the crosswalks at the Beach Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection, he added. “Can [they] manage the roundabout in a safe manner?”