By Rachel Brown Hackney
As one person put it during the Jan. 17 meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC) at Siesta Chapel, “It is a catastrophe, and it’s just the first day.” She was referring to the closure of one lane on Siesta Drive just east of the north bridge to Siesta Key.
Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio — the speaker for the SKCC session — told her that he was among those stopped in traffic “for a very long time” that afternoon. Finally, he said, he was able to spot the electronic sign warning drivers that work would begin that day and continue through March 1.
The contractor needed to be doing a better job of alternating the traffic flow, he said, so no line grew too long. “I think they don’t want people stacked up, sitting on top of the bridge,” Maio pointed out. Other attendees talked of waiting up to an hour in their vehicles, trying to get on and off the island that day.
When an audience member asked whether anyone knew exactly what was going on, Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association, replied that she understood the City of Sarasota was engaged in a utilities project at the same time the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had begun a drainage project at the San Remo Terrace intersection on Siesta Drive. Construction also is underway on a new home in the same general area, she noted.
In response to questions from Siesta leaders, Brian Bollas of HNTB Corporation, acting as a public information consultant for FDOT, explained in an email that City of Sarasota utility work had to be completed prior to the start of the FDOT drainage project.
Michael Crumpton, engineering manager for the City of Sarasota’s Utilities Department, told SNL in a telephone interview that the city gave the contractor until the end of the afternoon on Jan. 19 to complete the relocation of several “very large” water mains and sewer force mains, plus a 2-inch force main that connects to the bridge tender house on the Siesta bridge. If the firm had not finished up the work by that time without having to keep a lane closed, Crumpton added, the firm would have to do so at night.
In that event, Crumpton continued, the contractor — Spectrum, of Sarasota — would have to provide 48 hours of advance notice regarding when any further lane closures would be in effect.
The start of the FDOT project has been pushed back to Feb. 6, Bollas added in his email. The plan called for the state’s contractor to close a traffic lane only at night, between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
In a Jan. 10 email, Bollas informed Siesta leaders that the contractor for the FDOT drainage project had told him, weather permitting, “it looks like the work should go fairly quickly.”
Crumpton reported to the SNL that the city had “just a few weeks” of notice about the need to go ahead and put a contractor to work on its undertaking.
Crumpton said FDOT’s original timeline called for the drainage project to begin during the summer of 2015. At the latest, he continued, FDOT staff assured city staff that the starting date would be December 2015. “Things changed. They went to a different design and construction methodology.”
Robin Stublen, an FDOT spokesman in the District One office in Bartow, explained to SNL in a telephone interview that, prior to the start of any road project, a detailed process is undertaken to ensure that all utility lines in the affected area have been identified. Because of the “finding of factors we didn’t know about” in the San Remo Terrace vicinity, he continued, the drainage project was redesigned. Many utility lines can be located in just one area, he pointed out. “We run into that all the time.”
FDOT staff asked city staff to move city utilities out of the way because the lines were in conflict with the state plans for the drainage project, Stublen added.