Ringling Bridge roundabout prods Commission concern

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It’s become a ritual of sorts at Longboat Key Commission meetings. What happens is Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) representatives hope to give an innocuous ‘update’ on an upcoming project and the commission and community drills down on the agency over a myriad of traffic concerns. Last week was no different.

The workshop opened with FDOT explaining exactly how the pedestrian crossings would work at the roundabout which is due to be built at the base of the Ringling Bridge where US41 and Gulfstream Avenue converge. That convergence point is infamous on Longboat Key as Sarasota’s worst traffic bottleneck. The problem garnered some relief this past season when FDOT added a third left-hand turn lane for drivers turning north toward Fruitville Road.

At the meeting, Commissioner Jack Daly urged FDOT to evaluate carefully the improvement of adding the third lane before committing completely to building the roundabout.

“Shouldn’t we get full the experience over the next peak, driving season to test the effectiveness of the three turn lane configuration? Then stack those results against the roundabout model?” said Daly to the FDOT project manager at the workshop.

Daly was told that the modeling clearly shows an improvement with the roundabout over the three turn lanes.

“I hear that but we don’t have any true experience. What is the downside of experiencing real time basis?” asked Daly.

Daly was assured by the FDOT official that the roundabout will outperform the triple left turn lane, which he said was only meant as an interim improvement as a next step “toward an even better outcome.”

Daly asked about the concept of using an elevated walkway for pedestrians at the roundabout rather than having eight pedestrian crossings which is in the plan.

Daly was told that in most places it is difficult and costly to construct a pedestrian overpass.

The cost for the US41 roundabout is budgeted at $4.2 million and is slated to be constructed by mid-year 2020.

Former Commissioner and current Planning and Zoning Board member Phill Younger suggested in a letter after the commission meeting that pedestrian underpasses could be engineered and he urged the commission to, “Think outside of the box and get this accomplished correctly in the beginning rather than having to do so later at a tremendous cost.”

Younger raised his concern, which was echoed by the town commission over the HAWK pedestrian light system, which FDOT plans to use at the crosswalks. The HAWK system uses a series of flashing yellow and red lights that indicate when to slow down and stop depending on their configuration.

The concern raised is that drivers are not accustomed to the lighting sequence and that safer alternatives exist.

The overall roundabout project encompasses nearly a dozen of the traffic moving devices, which have become en vogue and have replaced numerous intersections throughout the city.

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