FDOT responsible for Longboat traffic pile-ups
To the surprise of Longboat Key residents, visitors and town staff, the traffic last week reached a level that made getting on and off the south end a near-impossible proposition.
To add to the community insult, the traffic was caused solely by bridge work at New Pass and reached a peak on election day.
“We had no clue this work was scheduled or was going to occur,” said Town Manager Dave Bullock.
Bullock said Town Hall received dozens of phone calls asking about the traffic and he said, “Longboaters are nice even when frustrated.”
FDOT engineer David Gwynn told the Town Manager in a memo that the massive increase in traffic that started last Monday, “was an anomaly due to a very specific battery of tests that had to be conducted in a specific order to meet contract requirements.”
Gwynn went on to say that the FDOT should have made the town aware of the testing in advance, as well as when it became apparent that problems were encountered and the testing was significantly extended. Gwynn also wrote that the “burn-in” of new computer software that was installed on the bridge will require additional openings over the next 60 days.
Part of what rubbed Bullock, the Mayor and Longboat Commissioners the wrong way is the town specifically negotiated with FDOT last year and FDOT agreed to perform maintenance and any unnecessary openings at night or outside the times of peak traffic.
FDOT told Bullock that they discussed when to open the bridge for this work and engineer Gwynn said, “Our team was concerned that the residents in the area may not want to have the noise associated with the bridge openings and warning devices during the evening or night hours. I asked (our team) to get with you regarding the town’s preference.”
Gwynn added that in the future FDOT will try to perform these type of projects in off-season months and vowed to try and make the impact on traffic minimal as they finish up the current project.
Gwynn was responding to Bullock who had written that the bridge work was “disheartening.”
Bullock added, “The month of March is absolute peak season. This is not new information. The fact that FDOT would allow a contract to proceed that required multiple openings per day during peak season baffles us. After all the discussion of peak traffic, bridge openings and congestion, there are at least eight months of non-peak season that are available for repairs.”
Bullock let FDOT know that each time the bridge went up, there was an instant three-mile standstill because of traffic volumes. Bullock sent a police officer to the intersection of Gulf of Mexico Drive and Longboat Club Road to keep the traffic moving southbound.
Mayor Terry Gans wrote to FDOT and said, “To our thinking, the ‘perfect storm’ was unnecessary as the FDOT had committed to us that bridge openings as part of the repair work would be limited to evening hours or absolute necessity.”
The final resolution appeared in a construction update on the town’s website that says testing is scheduled to resume within the next week to two weeks. The contractor, as best they can, will continue to coordinate the bridge opening with the red turn signal at Ken Thompson Parkway. The FDOT has asked that the specific dates will be provided to the town for when the testing will resume. If residents wish to contact FDOT or have a complaint or question regarding the bridge openings or traffic, it is recommended they call Lauren Hatchell at 941-708-4418 or email her at email@example.com
Bullock suggested residents use Google maps to monitor traffic and said that it uses a live algorhythm and can help make an instant decision on travel times. He said the town uses it every day and makes allowances for employees to either come early and leave early or come late and leave late so as to not spend excessive time in the traffic.