Longboat Town Manager talks traffic and building a beach

Editor & Publisher

Arguably, the two most prescient issues facing Longboat Key are traffic and beach renourishment. 

It is semantically kind to refer to traffic as an “issue.” As of late, it has been nothing short of a daily nightmare for visitors and residents who simply want to get off the key in either direction between the hours of 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer hears about traffic not only from residents and staff, but from his direct bosses – the seven town commissioners.

The other major consideration for Longboat property owners is beach renourishment. In March, the Town will ask voters if they support the town issuing beach bonds to help pay for a planned $35 million in beach work. The Town Manager and staff are tasked with educating the public and voters not only about the project but about the beach strategy as a whole.

Longboat Key News spoke with Harmer about both topics and here is what he has to say:

Is traffic worse this year and if so, why?

This year, traffic has been worse. Last year, we had the triple-left turn lane at the base of the Ringling Bridge at US 41 and that made a major difference. We’ve also been impacted this year by multiple road construction projects on both the south and north of Longboat Key. In Sarasota, we have the 14th and 10th Street roundabouts still under construction; we have the Fruitville roundabout and we have had accidents that add to the problem. You take the triple left turn lanes out of the equation, and it has reduced the flow of traffic. Then you add speed bumps on St. Armands Circle, the removal of the pine trees and the construction of the Multi Use Recreational Trail and it’s definitely impacting not just us, but Lido and Bird Keys as well.

What is the Town of Longboat Key doing to address the issues on behalf of the residents?

We are trying to attack it in multiple ways. One issue we’re trying to change is asking for better communication. For instance, there was a 10K run over the bridge that caused major backups and we received no notice of the event. We need to know in advance and there needs to be active communication to Lido, Bird Key and to Longboat Key so we can give citizens information and people can make plans.

On another level, we should really be engaged when the state, the FDOT, creates Maintenance of Traffic plans. These are the plans that are made to manage traffic during road construction projects. They address everything from detours and rerouting to determining whether there should be night-time vs. day-time construction. We need the agencies to engage us so we can be in an up-front position and at the table when these plans are made. The traffic is impacting every part of the island and the commissioners are residents who are driving around and they also hear about it from residents. We also have 100-some employees driving in it every day and this year it has been an unusual problem.

In the past, we have had concerns about individual projects such as the roundabout at Gulfstream and US 41. But now we are trying to get involved earlier in the planning process and we have raised the pressure and noise and effort and we are seeing where we can insert ourselves.

What is the town doing to address traffic and the speed bumps at St. Armands Circle?

We have gotten the state to agree on a three-way funding for pedestrian monitoring for St. Armands Circle. Starting March 13, crossing guards will help line up pedestrians and cross them more efficiently instead of what happens now. This will occur on the north and east quadrants of St. Armands Circle where traffic flows in and out and it will be monitored for both safety and efficiency. The speed bumps will remain through this monitoring but the goal is to manage the flow of pedestrians. The FDOT performed a similar study  in 2016 and a report suggested a follow up should occur, but that did not happen. That is what we have fought and is now going to occur.

Since you mentioned construction projects, do you see this year’s traffic an anomaly or will it continue to worsen?

I think it will get worse because when they build the roundabout at US 41 and on Gulfstream at the base of the bridge it has the potential to cause all kinds of traffic issues. Other public works projects are also scheduled for US 41 and the Fruitville roundabout has only just started.

Beaches a priority

What are the beach projects that the town is asking property owners to fund?

We have two major projects; one very targeted toward the north end and Greer Island and the other is what we call the major beach renourishment. Currently we have two semi-permeable groins at the end of North Shore Road. We are adding two groins south of that and three groins to the north of the existing groins. Two of the groins to the north will come off of Manatee County property on Greer Island. The groins and the sand that will placed around the groins are all part of the north end project and will cost about $10 million.

The other part of the beach plan is the $25 million town-wide hot-spot renourishment.

How long will this beach last, and what is the long-range plan?

We have been doing these beach renourishment cycles since 1992. This year, we are paying off debt from the last renourishment. Simply said, sand moves north to south and if you do not put sand in the system, we would lose the beach in several areas.

The threat on the north end comes from the fact that you have a nodal point wherein sand travels in both directions because we have a pass that also draws sand to the north and around the tip of our island. That is the most vulnerable point on Longboat Key. We want to protect the north end, the Longbeach Condominiums and the 360 North Condominiums.

You said two groins will emanate from Manatee County property. Is the county contributing to the cost?

We have asked for $2.89 million. The Manatee County Commission was supportive of the request at a meeting and told the County Manager to negotiate with us and then it will go back for formal consideration. As in anything, the devil is in the details.

Is this our community’s ongoing largest expense?

Yes. Undergrounding may be a larger one-time project, but we are looking at 6-8 year cycles for beach renourishment.

Where will the sand come from?

We have multiple sources including both New Pass and Longboat Pass. We alternate sharing dredged sand from New Pass with the City of Sarasota and now it is our turn. We also have other sources including high quality sand at Passage Key. We are looking at about one million cubic yards of sand between the two projects.

Manager Harmer said the town will present a public workshop on the beach plan at 10 a.m. on Feb. 25 in Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road.

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