By Rachel Brown Hackney
Sarasota County staff has been in discussions with staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) about potentially assuming ownership of roads on Siesta Key in exchange for the state taking River Road, County Administrator Tom Harmer told the County Commission on Sept. 13.
Improvements long planned for River Road — a county road with a regional impact — have become increasingly important as the county works with the Atlanta Braves, the West Villages Improvement District and the City of North Port on plans for the Braves’ new Spring Training complex in the West Villages.
A Sept. 6 memo to Harmer from Spencer Anderson, interim director of the county’s Public Works Department, says staff has been talking about taking over portions of Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Drive, Higel Avenue, South Osprey Drive and Bay Road, which are county routes, while the state takes ownership of River Road between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 in South County.
“Possible advantages of this transfer … may include advanced funding and construction of River Road between West Villages Parkway and I-75,” Anderson added.
During his report to the board as part of its Sept. 13 meeting, Harmer noted that Stickney Point Road also has figured into the discussions with FDOT.
“We’re not sure if that’s something that we would recommend at this point,” he added of the swap in general. Staff has been analyzing the potential, Harmer continued, and will prepare a report for the commission that will include information about the potential expenses for capital improvements and maintenance to the Siesta roads, South Osprey and Bay Road.
“We anticipate further deliberation with FDOT over the next 30-60 days and a formal update to the Board of County Commissioners within the next 45-90 days,” Anderson wrote in his memo.
Formally, the discussions regard State Road 758, which encompasses Midnight Pass Road, Higel, Siesta Drive, South Osprey Drive and Bay Road. That segment is about 5.3 miles, Anderson noted. The Stickney Point Road stretch is about 6.5 miles, according to Anderson’s memo.
Commissioner Nancy Detert asked that Harmer have staff “include any bridges that we would be responsible for” in its analysis and report.
Harmer responded that he has talked with L.K. Nandam, secretary of FDOT’s District One, which includes Sarasota County. The state “has indicated a willingness to removing the drawbridges” from the swap, if that transaction takes place, Harmer explained. “We’re still talking to them about the [two] fixed bridges and the entire segment” considered for the exchange, he added. “So that’s a good point,” he told Detert.