With Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard drainage project already underway, county staff plans to install speed cushions north of Siesta Village on May 11

Trees being cut down on Ocean Boulevard to clear way for drainage work

This aerial map shows Hour Glass Way and Ocean Boulevard. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Just as work was beginning May 2 on a Siesta Key drainage project involving Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, electronic message boards appeared about another initiative slated to begin next week.

As county Public Works Director Spencer Anderson had explained to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members in April, staff also will be installing speed cushions on the approach to Siesta Village from the north. That work is slated to begin on May 11, the message boards reported.

County Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant issued an advisory to the news media on May 2 about the speed cushion work. New traffic patterns also will be necessitated by that project, she pointed out.

Sarasota County Public Works staff will be installing several speed cushions/bumps for traffic-calming purposes, Grant explained. “Additional signage will also be installed near each of the speed cushions,” she added. “Motorists are advised to use caution, adhere to signage directions, and follow inspections from crews on site,” Grant wrote.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question, Grant did provide more details from the Public Works Department.

The speed cushions will be installed in the eastbound and westbound lanes of Ocean Boulevard, just east of Hour Glass Way, the Public Works staff said.

These are examples of speed cushions. Image courtesy Sarasota County Public Works Department

“Speed cushions are a series of small speed humps installed across the width of the road,” the response continued. “They are designed to be wide enough to slow cars while narrow enough for emergency vehicles to straddle,” the email added. “[T]hey are ideal for streets where emergency response time is a concern,” the Public Works staff pointed out. Speed cushions slow cars to between 15 mph and 20 mph, staff noted. “Made of interlocking units that simply snap together, typically 3 inches high, speed cushions are an innovative solution that can help slow speeders and protect roads without slowing emergency vehicles. They are made from recycled rubber and are bolted to the existing pavement.”

In the meantime, some concerns have arisen about the traffic detours necessary for the Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard drainage project.

On April 28, Robert Luckner, a director of the Siesta Key Association, sent an email to Anderson of Public Works, noting that he had received one of the postcards about the drainage initiative.

With that initiative expected to last for about five months, and crews planning to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Luckner expressed concern about the effects on the “large number of homes” in the area whose residents use Higel to head north toward the Siesta Drive bridge or who take Mangrove Point Road to reach Midnight Pass Road, to drive south on the Key.

This is the area of the sharp curve on Ocean Boulevard, just north of the Gleason Avenue intersection, on the morning of May 4. The box shown is the drain that was in place, along with the new piping that extends to the right, heading north, parallel to the sidewalk. Contributed photo

The drawing included on the postcard, Luckner continued, indicated that county staff would allow the contractor to block the access to Higel north of the Ocean Boulevard intersection.

Residents also use Treasure Boat Way to access Siesta Village, Luckner added. Yet, the postcard further indicated that the work plans would affect access to Ocean Boulevard west of Higel, he wrote.

“I’m confident you and the contractor have developed a traffic management plan for our area during construction that gives us a method to reach either bridge without going through the Village,” Luckner added.

This is the northern end of the new pipeline shown in the above photo, as seen on May 4. This photo was taken on the west side of Ocean Boulevard. Contributed photo

It also appears, Luckner noted, that driving through Siesta Village will be the only way that crews from Fire Station 13 on the island would be able to reach the residential area to which Luckner was referring. “This extra traffic through the Village is dangerous,” Luckner pointed out.

“Please let us know your plan to allow at least alternating traffic flow on Higel and on Ocean during this construction or other plans you will use,” Luckner wrote.

This graphic shows the area of the Ocean Boulevard/Higel Avenue drainage project that has begun. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The following day, Thai Tran, operations manager for the county’s Capital Projects Department, responded with assurance that he had received Luckner’s email. “I will be meeting with my construction team early next week and will get back with you on more details about the traffic management plan as you have requested,” Tran added.

Luckner also invited county staff to provide an update to SKA members during their regular meeting on May 5. However, Tran did not reply to that invitation.

The SKA meeting took place after the News Leader’s deadline for its publication this week.

A lot of waiting in line on Monday

One resident, who has lived on the Key for many years, told the News Leader on May 2 that around 9 a.m. that day, the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Higel Avenue was closed, as was the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Gleason Avenue.

Drivers heading north from Siesta Village had to make a right turn onto Gleason, then a left onto Reid Street and then head to Higel, the resident explained.

Drivers spent a lot of time waiting in line, the resident noted.

The News Leader did contact the director of communications for the Out-of-Door Academy, whose Lower School is located on Reid Street. Kim Metrokotsas wrote in a May 3 email that school staff notified all of the students’ families about the drainage project via email. She added that she had “yet to hear any negative feedback on backups.”

Although drivers sat in long lines on Monday, the resident told the News Leader, tree removal was the order of the day on May 3.

Tree stumps are visible along the northern stretch of Ocean Boulevard on May 4. Contributed photo

No disruptions to traffic were reported on May 4 or 5, either.

One individual who drove on the north end of the Key on the morning of May 5 did tell the News Leader that an electronic sign was advising drivers of road closures beginning May 8. However, when the News Leader checked with the county about that, Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported that the Public Works staff had told her that that notice had nothing to do with either the drainage work or the speed cushions project. Someone was headed out to the Key, Grant added, to check the sign.

The News Leader did reach Jason Bartolone, communications specialist for the City of Sarasota. He wrote in a May 5 email, “There was a nighttime [his emphasis] closure of Siesta Drive west of South Osprey Avenue planned to begin May 9 for utility work on a gravity sewer line. However, we just received initial word from the contractor that the closures are expected to be pushed back to later this summer. We’re awaiting the contractor’s official submittal before we formally announce the delay.”

This is the May 4 scene in front of the house at 4510 Ocean Blvd., where Ocean intersects with Higel Avenue. Contributed photo
This is the house at 4510 Ocean Blvd. in Dec. 2021. Image from Google Maps

Facts and figures

The county fact sheet for the Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard drainage initiative noted that staff had expected the work to get underway in April; the design was completed in February 2021, the sheet said.

Gator Grading and Paving LLC of Palmetto won the $885,403.05 contract for the construction. (The only other bid came from Tampa Contracting Services Inc. of Palmetto; it was $1,660,573.75, a county Procurement Department document showed.)

The fact sheet further explained that the undertaking “will provide protection against a 100-year storm event.” The primary funding for it came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the fact sheet added. In August 2020, the County Commission approved the FEMA grant in the amount of $512,214.75.

Additionally, the Florida Division of Emergency Management awarded the county a $25,000 grant for the project; the commissioners approved that funding in July 2021.