By Phil Colpas
At its regular meeting April 7, the Siesta Key Association heard a presentation from the Sarasota County Department of Public Works regarding its plans for a roundabout to be constructed at Beach and Midnight Pass roads.
The county is seeking resident input for detailed design of the roundabout.
Funded by the Florida Department of Transportation and the penny infrastructure surtax, the project has been highly contested. According to a recent SKA survey of island residents, 37% wanted the roundabout, 33% wanted it kept as is, and 33% wanted an improved, signalized traffic light.
The county selected the roundabout.
Spencer Anderson, engineer with the county’s public works department, told the SKA that considerations for the design of the roundabout include pedestrian safety, accommodations for free-flowing southbound and left-turning traffic, traffic calming, evacuation routes, long-term maintenance, fire station access, landscaping and hardscaping.
A transportation technical analysis determined that the roundabout is the better alternative to a signal light at that location, Anderson said. “This works much better if there is congestion. It keeps traffic moving much more efficiently.”
It is also designed so that large delivery trucks will be able to maneuver through the roundabout without difficulty, he said.
According to the county’s presentation, advantages to the roundabout are plentiful; it will:
● Remove free-flow right turn lane
● Remove the traffic signal light
● Reduce conflict points
● Reduce vehicle speed
● Calm traffic
● Make pedestrian crossings highly visible
● Help ensure pedestrians have the right of way
● Better accommodate bicycles
● Improve intersection operations
● Accommodate higher volumes of traffic
● Improve safety
● Improve aesthetics
● Remove signal maintenance cost; and
● Maintain its function during a power failure.
Disadvantages of the roundabout include additional design and landscaping costs, and the duration of the construction phase of the project, which is expected to last for 260 days after construction is slated to begin in Summer 2023.
According to the presentation, after the roundabout is constructed, the traffic light signal will be removed. The center island will be landscaped with grass, trees and brick pavers. The roundabout will reduce overall traffic delay, improve traffic movement, and remove three vehicle contact points and one pedestrian conflict point from the intersection as it is now.
Efforts are simultaneously underway to improve mass transit onto Siesta Key, Anderson said, so that people can come to the island without driving onto it and exacerbating the traffic congestion problem. The county is also looking into installing signs on Tamiami Trail that will be updated in real time to alert those traveling to the beach when the main beach parking lot is full, so that they don’t waste their time driving all the way out to the beach, adding to potential traffic gridlock.
SKA board members raised concerns about cost, safety and whether this roundabout is really the best choice for Siesta Key.
Roundabouts are a polarizing issue, Anderson said. “There are over 20 roundabouts in the county, not including the ones the city is doing. Every one we’ve built has had similar consternation prior to … But I don’t hear a lot of complaints after the fact.”
“Let’s get this done and see how it works,” he said. “There are always ways to tweak things.”
The county’s estimated schedule for construction of the roundabout project is as follows:
● 60% design completion: May 2022
● Final design: fall 2022
● Bidding: winter 2022
● Start of construction: summer 2023
● Estimated construction duration: 260 days.
Regarding other road-related improvements, Anderson noted that the Higel Avenue curve improvement project will include new signage, illuminated reflective pavement markers, flashing chevrons and drainage improvements.
Also, he said the county has installed illuminated reflective pavement markers through the curve at Ocean Boulevard. “Hopefully, that is improving that curve to make it more noticeable,” Anderson said.
The county also installed speed cushions at the Ocean Boulevard entrance to Siesta Village. “They are low profile,” Anderson said. “Just enough to make traffic slow down a little,” but not impede emergency vehicles.