Traffic shifts implemented around Gulfstream Avenue roundabout project initially cause major back-ups, necessitating FDOT tweaks

Online animation shows how motorists should proceed

This Aug. 17 photo, taken just west of the intersection of Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41, shows a long line of vehicles headed toward the Ringling Causeway Bridge. The photo was emailed to Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

As the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout project proceeds in the city of Sarasota, major traffic shifts implemented this week resulted in heavy vehicle congestion and complaints, City of Sarasota and Sarasota Police Department social media posts indicate.

The shifts were scheduled to start at 8 p.m. on Aug. 16, weather permitting, Mayor Hagen Brody noted in his Aug. 13 newsletter. “The transition to the new traffic pattern is expected take several days, with crews working day and night until the traffic shift is complete,” he added.

A Sarasota Police Department tweet about 9 a.m. on Aug. 17 said, “We’re aware of the heavy traffic delays in the area of [U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue]. Officers are working to get traffic moving smoothly. Please have patience and allow extra travel time if your commute brings you this way,” the tweet added.

Traffic is backed up on the Ringling Causeway Bridge about noon on Aug. 17. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department via Facebook

About noon on Aug. 17, the Police Department issued a similar message on its Facebook page: “We know many folks are frustrated with the heavy traffic delays in the area of US 41/Gulfstream and the Ringling Bridge. Our Officers are working to get traffic moving smoothly but there are significant delays in the area due to construction.”

Sarasota Police officers and roadway flaggers were scheduled to be on the project site to direct motorists through the new traffic patterns, Brody pointed out in his Aug. 13 newsletter.

At 8:24 a.m. on Aug. 17, Sarasota City Engineer Nikesh Patel informed City Manager Marlon Brown that he had discussed maintenance of traffic (MOT) issues with FDOT staff, the city’s Public Works staff and representatives of the Police Department. As a result, Patel indicated, FDOT representatives would be adjusting the timing of the traffic signal at the intersection of Gulfstream and U.S. 41 and modifying the maintenance of traffic plan, “to help traffic move better through the project.”

By that night, Patel added, the MOT plans should have been fine-tuned.

About 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 18, the Police Department put up another Facebook post with the heading, “TRAFFIC ALERT.” That one warned drivers, “If your travels take you southbound [on U.S. 41] from Fruitville [Road], due to the construction at US 41/Gulfstream detours will ONLY divert you onto St. Armands.”

Finally, just before 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, a post on the City of Sarasota Facebook page said, “We’ve seen MUCH improved traffic flow already today as drivers get used to the new traffic pattern & detours in this area and getting on and off the barrier islands. FDOT Southwest Florida is making minor adjustments and Sarasota Police Department officers are assisting with traffic control.”

In his Aug. 13 newsletter, Mayor Brody noted that a detailed animation of the new traffic movements is available online.

“Motorists should take an alternate route if possible during this phase of construction,” he wrote in the newsletter. “If you do drive through this area, please be mindful of new traffic signals, pavement markings and barrier walls that are being added. As always, use caution and watch for construction vehicles and trucks entering and exiting the work zone.”

A still from a City of Sarasota video that was posted on the city’s Facebook page on Aug. 18 shows traffic flowing more smoothly through the intersection. Image courtesy City of Sarasota via Facebook

The multi-lane roundabout at Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41 is just the latest in a series that had “been in the works for more than 20 years,” Brody pointed out. “They were first identified in the 1999-2000 Downtown Master Plan as the best way to improve traffic flow and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross [U.S.] 41 and access the bayfront.”

The Gulfstream roundabout project is expected to be completed in early fall 2022. Construction began in March.

In the meantime, FDOT has pointed out that the pedestrian crossings at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue, and the crossing of U.S. 41 at First Street, have been closed. “Temporary pedestrian paths around the work zone are available on Fruitville Road or Main Street during construction,” FDOT notes in its weekly project updates for Sarasota County. “Please use designated paths and follow posted detour signs,” the department adds.

Further, FDOT points out that the north parking lot entrance/exit on Gulfstream Avenue associated with Marina Jack is closed to vehicular traffic. “Motorists may access the parking lot via Bayfront Drive at Main Street/Marina Plaza. No through traffic allowed through this area,” FDOT warns.

The project itself and continued flooding in the area

This graphic, which the Police Department posted on its Facebook page on Aug. 17, shows how FDOT planned the traffic shifts to work. Image Sarasota Police Department via Facebook

The $8.6-million roundabout project will include the installation of a HAWK pedestrian crossing signal system, new sidewalks, the replacement of underground drainage structures, installation of LED streetlights and fiber optic cable, and the reconfiguration of stormwater retention ponds, FDOT has reported.

Flooding long has been a problem in the vicinity of the new roundabout. Even Sarasota County Engineer Spencer Anderson has talked about that, as the county is responsible for stormwater issues within the city limits.

Anderson told the county commissioners last year that FDOT had designed measures to alleviate flooding problems in the area.

Nonetheless, just after 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13, a resident of The Vue condominiums on North Gulfstream Avenue emailed City Commissioner Liz Alpert to report that it appeared that the two westbound travel lanes of Gulfstream were underwater because of all the rain the city had received that day and earlier in the week. “How will cars safely navigate [the area],” the resident asked.

This is flooding seen from an upper story of The Vue condominiums late last week. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Alpert responded just before 9 p.m. that day, telling the resident that she had been out of town at a Florida League of Cities conference and was copying City Manager Brown on her email, so appropriate staff could respond to the concerns.

City Engineer Patel ended up sending Alpert and her colleagues an email at 12:30 on Aug. 16, explaining that he had talked with the resident and that the area with standing water was in the work zone; it had been blocked off from traffic. The resident was unaware of that, Patel added.