By Rachel Brown Hackney
Before the end of September, Sarasota County is expected to take ownership of Midnight Pass Road from the intersection of Stickney Point Road to the intersection of Higel Avenue; Siesta Drive west of U.S. 41; parts of Bay Road and Osprey Avenue, which are designated State Road 758 west of Bee Ridge Road; and the segment of Stickney Point Road west of the U.S. 41 intersection.
That will not include the two drawbridges, which are located on Stickney Point Road and Siesta Drive, county staff pointed out again on May 22.
In exchange, the State of Florida will take over the segment of River Road from U.S. 41 to Interstate 75.
That was the formal road swap offer the Florida Department of Transportation made to the county, which the County Commission unanimously approved on May 22.
County commissioners have pointed to frustrations numerous times over the past couple of years that they had not been able to win state funding for the widening of River Road, which is a major hurricane route for residents of both South County and Charlotte County. Finally, on Sept. 13, 2017, then-County Administrator Tom Harmer announced that staff had begun discussing a proposed road swap that would lead to River Road becoming a state road. If that could be achieved, commissioners agreed, the state would be able to make the long-sought improvements.
In more recent months, however, residents who live near the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41 — and a number on Siesta Key — have voiced alarm that if the state no longer had authority over Stickney Point Road, then the likelihood would increase that the proposed Siesta Promenade project would win approval.
Commissioner Charles Hines voiced his belief on May 22 that FDOT will have significant say in traffic issues related to Siesta Promenade, which Benderson Development has planned on about 24 acres on the northwest corner of the Stickney Point Road intersection with U.S. 41.
“I really believe [there has been] miscommunication going on” in regard to the Siesta Promenade issue, Hines said. FDOT will remain completely responsible for the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, he stressed. “[FDOT is] still going to have an interest [in what transpires with Siesta Promenade]. I think that needed to be made clear.”
Sura Kochman, a spokeswoman for the Pine Shores Neighborhood Alliance, was one of three speakers on May 22 who opposed the road swap. Pine shores Estates is the community that would be immediately adjacent to Siesta Promenade.
Among her points, Kochman told the board that in July 2016, FDOT sent a letter to county staff, noting its staff members “were especially concerned” about the fact that the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection was on the department’s list of the top vehicle crash locations in Sarasota County. From 2010 to 2014, Kochman said, FDOT statistics showed a 175% increase in those crashes. “I find it very difficult to believe that the situation has changed for the better,” she told the commissioners.
Commissioner Alan Maio said during the later board discussion, “I explicitly asked for the elimination of the leg of Stickney Point Road … from Midnight Pass Road to [U.S.] 41.”
However, Spencer Anderson, interim director of the county’s Public Works Department, emphasized that FDOT refused to accept any counter proposal county staff made regarding the road swap, except for the suggestion that the state maintain control of the drawbridges on Siesta Drive and Stickney Point Road.
Maio also noted that he had worked alongside County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to seek the inclusion of improvements — at state expense — to the almost 90-degree curve at the intersection of Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive on north Siesta Key.
County staff will design those improvements, Anderson said, stressing, “It is a fully constrained roadway. … [The rights of way] for all intents and purposes are already in use.” Still, he added, the goal will be to make the intersection safer.
The agreement also calls for FDOT to complete the resurfacing of Midnight Pass Road from the Stickney Point Road intersection to Shadow Lawn Way in the 2022 fiscal year; the distance is about 1.6 miles.