Traffic headaches for Siesta Isles residents next summer could lead to a long-sought improvement

| September 1, 2016

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

A temporary traffic disruption that residents of Siesta Key’s Siesta Isles subdivision will face next summer could end with an especially welcome “silver lining,” the Siesta Isles Association president stated in an interview.

Shadow Lawn Way engineering drawing for Siesta Key Master Pump Station contract July 2016 smallFor up to two weeks in 2017, the south side of Shadow Lawn Way will be closed as a crew extends a new sewer force main to the site of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant adjacent to Siesta Isles, Peter Bonk, the county’s project manager, told SNL in a telephone interview. That work has been planned as part of the county’s effort to transform the plant into a master pump station, with sewage to be removed from the island for treatment on the mainland. “I’ve never measured it, but I think that’s our busiest entrance and exit,” Tony Romanus, the Siesta Isles Association president, said of Shadow Lawn Way in a telephone interview.

Although county staff had contemplated the idea of trying to fit two-way traffic on the north side of the street, Bonk said, “that’s just not safe,” because the travel lanes are only 8 feet wide. Another concern, Bonk pointed out, is the fact that the speed limit on the adjacent part of Midnight Pass Road is 40 mph. “It would be really dangerous,” Bonk said, to have traffic try to turn into just one side of Shadow Lawn Way if two-way traffic were allowed there during the construction work.

That means many residents will use the intersection of Beach Way and Beach Road, Romanus explained. “That intersection … for a long time has been a challenge for the neighborhood,” he pointed out. Its crosswalk is the one most people in Siesta Isles use to reach Siesta Public Beach, he said. Sarasota County staff did enhance the crosswalk several years ago to make pedestrians more visible to traffic, Romanus added. “I think that’s helped some, but it’s still not perfect.” Bonk concurred with Romanus about how busy that intersection is and acknowledged, “We’re going to make it a little busier.”

As Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), put it, “that’s going to be a nightmare there.”

Canal Road will see heavier traffic, too, Romanus stated, but because of the numerous stop signs placed along that street, he is hopeful its residents will not have to contend with safety issues because of Siesta Isles drivers and others. With the improvements to Siesta Public Beach having been completed early this year, Bonk continued, that destination has seemed to become even more popular. When he drove to Siesta Key recently to look at the Siesta Isles situation, he continued, that was his first opportunity to visit the public beach in quite some time. “Wow!” was his first thought, he added.

Therefore, Bonk told SNL, county staff plans to install a temporary traffic light at the Beach Way/Beach Road intersection during the period when work is underway on Shadow Lawn Way.

When he met with Bonk and representatives of the SKA several weeks ago to discuss the traffic management plan for the neighborhood, Bonk said, Romanus told him that residents of the subdivision asked the county a number of years ago to install a traffic signal at the Beach Way/Beach Road intersection. “It hasn’t gone anywhere,” he added of that petition. “Maybe this [temporary signal] will help them out.”

Romanus said he was not certain when that request was made. He will finish his sixth year on the HOA board at the end of October, he noted, and the matter went to county staff before he began that stint. His understanding, he continued, is that county staff said the traffic count at the intersection at that time did not warrant the addition of a signal.

Romanus and Bonk also were of a like mind in their comments about how busy the public beach park is. Ever since Dr. Stephen Leatherman — Dr. Beach — of Florida International University named Siesta Beach No. 1 in the nation in 2011, Romanus pointed out, “we don’t have much of a season anymore.” Tourism on the Key remains high year-round, he noted.

During the meeting with Bonk, Romanus added, he talked about the potential for the increased use of that intersection during the construction project to change county staff members’ view about a signal. “That would be a home run.” Even if installation of a traffic light was seen again as an unnecessary step, he said, he is hopeful a four-way stop sign might be considered. “The vast majority of people in the neighborhood would be thrilled with that.” Luckner agreed, saying the four-way stop “is something that we have all felt would be a good idea …”

During a recent visit to Vancouver, she said, she and her husband saw a new type of four-way traffic signal that worked very well. “Why can’t we have something like that?”

Other facets of the project

Bonk explained that county staff heard from Siesta residents that the Master Pump Station and Sewer Force Main Phase 3 project should not begin until after the 2016-17 school year has ended, because a school bus stop is in the vicinity of the Midnight Pass Road/Shadow Lawn Way work site. Classes will be out on May 26, 2017, he said, and they will resume on Aug. 14, 2017, based on information he had from the Sarasota County Schools.

The contractor will have 80 days to get the pipeline to the site of the existing wastewater treatment plant, Bonk stated. After the work has been completed on Shadow Lawn Way, he continued, that street will be repaved, and the work will proceed down Shadow Lawn Drive toward the plant. A flag crew will be on site to make certain traffic moves slowly around the construction area, he noted.

Based on his and the SKA leaders’ meeting with Bonk, Romanus said, the residents on the even-numbered side of Shadow Lawn Drive will have to contend with digging for the pipeline. However, Bonk and other county staff have made it clear that those residents will have “no more than a day of any loss of access” to the sidewalk or their driveways, Luckner added.

She and Romanus agreed that the primary concern is the decommissioning of the wastewater plant after the master pump station equipment has been installed and the new sewer force main and water main the county is working on have been completed. During the April 7 SKA meeting, numerous residents voiced anger about what they described as horrible smells at the plant at the end of Shadow Lawn Drive. County staff members responded that their goal is to decommission the facility no later than the end of December 2017.

“The sooner that thing shuts down,” Romanus stated, “the better.” Siesta Isles residents are committed to doing “whatever we can do to help move this [project] along.” In the meantime, Luckner said, county employees have worked to mitigate the odors, and they have been generally successful.

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