Roundabout ditched: Commissioners opt to do away with the controversial construction when presented with a single, sky-high bid

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They decided to go a different direction.

During a May 15 budget meeting, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners reached consensus to dispense with plans to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Beach and Midnight Pass roads. It was slated to have construction begin as early as the coming weeks.

Public Works Director Spencer Anderson said the project, estimated to cost $2.9 million as recent as last year, went out for bid and came back at $8.9 million with only one bidder. He said he spoke with representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation, the project funding source, who said they were committed to pay their part. However, with the hefty price tag, they would like to cancel and put it out to bid again, which he said “may result in more bidders and may result in potentially more competitive costs.”

Anderson said FDOT was planning to continue with the same design, go back to the bidding pool, and wait 12 to 18 months to see what happens with the now-expensive construction market.

That’s when Mark Smith stepped in.

“The problem that the folks on Siesta Key have is that they don’t want it,” the District 2 commissioner and Siesta Key resident said during the topic’s discussion.

Smith also referred to a March meeting of the Siesta Key Association, a neighborhood organization, about the reaction he heard to the outlandish bid. Anderson was present at that meeting.

“There was a sigh of relief when we found out that bids were so high it couldn’t be built,” he continued. “If you think this (roundabout) is a solution, I don’t believe it is, only because I live there and I’ve driven it and I don’t have any faith that a roundabout in that location is going to improve the situation.”

He then reminded his colleagues that an initial 2020 survey of area residents showed only 35% wanted the roundabout, while the remaining voters chose improved signalization or leaving it as-is.

Smith then called for a consensus of the board to “find another home for this money and scrap the project,” or use the money already invested to improve signalization in the intersection. District 3 commissioner Neil Rainford and District 4 commissioner Joe Neunder, whose district also includes part of the Key south of Stickney Point Road, agreed with Smith.

Chief Deputy County Attorney Karl Senkow recommended the board vote to remove the project as a formalized motion in a regular meeting, likely in June. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said, since the construction of the roundabout was tied to a years-old “road transfer agreement” between the county and FDOT, he would speak with district FDOT representatives about whether state funds for the roundabout construction could be transferred to a different project, such as improvements to South River Road (in the county’s southern area). He said he would provide the board with the update on that conversation during the meeting with the official vote to scrap the roundabout project.

Previously, in exchange for making River Road a state road, the county assumed authority for the portion of Stickney Point Road west of the intersection with U.S. 41. The other Siesta segments to be transferred, designated State Road 758, encompass North Midnight Pass Road, part of Higel Avenue, and part of Siesta Drive. While the county now owns it, the FDOT roundabout project was on its books and FDOT was committed to see it through completion.

A robust $417,206.95 has already been spent by the county, per the agreement, toward the project’s design phase, focusing beyond the actual roundabout on improvements that enhance signaling, signage and pedestrian/bicyclist scenarios.

“We are thankful,” Catherine Luckner, SKA president, said regarding the decision to forgo the roundabout. “It’s a big relief and we hope for the other improvements already designed.”

Whether the money can be used elsewhere, or if some of the money can be used in part at the Siesta Key intersection in question, remains uncertain.

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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