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Road swap concerns

Speakers implore FDOT to maintain jurisdiction over Stickney Point Road, citing its necessity as hurricane evacuation route for south Siesta Key residents

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

What will happen to one of only two hurricane evacuation routes for Siesta Key after the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) transfers to Sarasota County jurisdiction of Stickney Point Road from U.S. 41 to the Midnight Pass Road intersection?

Many of the 19 speakers who addressed an FDOT project manager on Dec. 11 at Siesta Key Chapel expressed that concern, with one specifically questioning the reasoning for a road swap that will turn over to the state the control of River Road in South County in exchange for the county’s assuming authority over Siesta Key Roads.

Sally Marshall, president of the Gulf Gate Garden Homes Association, pointed to the opening statement Kyle Purvis of FDOT’s District One staff made at the approximately hour-long hearing.

The purpose of the jurisdictional transfer, Purvis said, is “to give the department an opportunity [to improve] a high-priority hurricane evacuation route in South Sarasota County.”

“We certainly care about our South County neighbors,” Marshall told Purvis. Nonetheless, she continued, “It is not a logical or sound reason for the transfer.”

“You can’t get off the south end [of Siesta Key during a hurricane evacuation] without Stickney Point Road,” Margaret Jean Cannon stressed to Purvis.

No transfer of roadway jurisdictions should take place, Cannon added, until FDOT figures out how to deal with the congestion around the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Traffic does not just back up into that intersection, as visitors try to head west toward Siesta Key’s beaches, Marshall emphasized. Her neighborhood is located in the vicinity of the intersection of Gateway Avenue and Stickney Point Road, Marshall explained. “We are terribly impacted during [tourist] season. … We urge that road transfer not to occur.”

Marshall and Cannon were among 85 people who signed in before the testimony began during the public hearing, Kris Cella, CEO of Cella Molnar & Associates of Fort Myers — whose firm was assisting FDOT — told The Sarasota News Leader.

Kafi Benz, president of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), pointed out in her statement that not only is Stickney Point Road one of the two routes off Siesta Key for emergencies, “but the only one leading to the interstate roadway system. Transfer from existing state designation to county designation is totally inappropriate.”

Benz noted that CONA represents 70 neighborhoods in the county.

One of the last of the speakers on Dec. 11, Bispham Road resident Steve Christophers, noted the need for the River Road improvements because of “the mess the county has made of that road.”

Referring to Stickney Point Road, Christophers asked Purvis, “Do you have it on your calendar when you’re going to come back to fix that mess?”

‘The elephant in the room’

During his opening remarks, Purvis also told the audience, “This public hearing will only address the jurisdictional transfer of the roadway.”

Along with Stickney Point Road west of U.S. 41, the state plans to give the county authority over State Road 758, which includes Midnight Pass Road north of the Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection; Higel Avenue; Siesta Drive; Bay Road; and part of Osprey Avenue west of U.S. 41.

The County Commission formally approved the road swap in a unanimous vote on Oct. 8.

“No future plans [along] the roadway will be discussed during this meeting,” Purvis added. “That also includes the elephant in the room, apparently”: Siesta Promenade.

In spite of that admonition, numerous speakers did refer to that project, though not by name.

Benderson Development Co. plans 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space in the northwest quadrant of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection.

Concern about the estimated 8,000 to 12,000 additional vehicle trips expected to be generated in the vicinity of that intersection — if Siesta Promenade is completed — was the reason many speakers cited for their decision to make public statements during the Dec. 11 hearing.

In fact, the first person to address Purvis that night was Sura Kochman, leader of the Pine Shores Estates Alliance, which fought the Siesta Promenade plans, as proposed.

On Dec. 12, 2018, the Sarasota County Commission approved the mixed-use development on a series of votes, some of which were split. Kochman filed suit against the county in January, arguing that the board did not follow the applicable county procedures and had ignored county policies in making its decision.

On Dec. 2, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh denied those among Kochman’s arguments that McHugh could address in the type of complaint Kochman had filed. Other allegations in the lawsuit, McHugh ruled, could be included in a new complaint.

During the Dec. 11 hearing, Robert Luckner, a Siesta Key Association director, read a section of McHugh’s order that referenced plans for a new traffic signal on Stickney Point Road at the intersection of Avenue B and C.

“It is not in dispute that installing a traffic light is subject to approval by the Department of Transportation and that construction of [Siesta Promenade] cannot begin until the signal is installed and the intersection completed,” McHugh wrote.

“After the road transfer,” Luckner asked Purvis, will FDOT “abide by this commitment that was made to the court?”

Residents on Siesta Key and in the area around the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection have expressed worries about plans for that light. They believe it will exacerbate the congestion on Stickney Point Road, especially given the constraints on traffic flow imposed by the drawbridge between U.S. 41 and Midnight Pass Road. (FDOT is retaining jurisdiction over both drawbridges leading to Siesta Key.)

FDOT “should be the controlling voice as to what is feasible vis a vis driveway cuts and a traffic light at Avenue B and C on the approach to Siesta Key,” Kochman of Pine Shores Estates stressed to Purvis. “Inconsistent transportation management will affect the entire corridor.”