SARASOTA -- About 4.5 miles of 15th Street East stretching from Sarasota's Tallevast Road to U.S. 41 in Manatee County is slated for a major overhaul as Manatee County's No. 1 priority in its long-range transportation plan.
What 15th Street East will look like remains uncertain.
The Florida Department of Transportation held an open house Thursday evening at the Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Sarasota showing alternative plans with the biggest difference being whether to signalize many of the intersections or install roundabouts. The meeting was part of an ongoing $1.5 million project development and environment study.
David Turley, FDOT se
nior project manager for the study, said the project would address vehicle traffic, pedestrians and bicycles. Eight- to 10-foot sidewalks are being proposed for the length of the project, which runs through heavy commercial and industrial zones. Bike lanes also are proposed, as well as creating a center-turn lane through the project, effectively widening 15th Street East from two lanes to three.
"We are partnering with Manatee County, but ultimate the county will decide on the final design," said Turley. "The county wants a walkable feel to this stretch of road to not only improve the road and make it safer, but to have the businesses more accessible to people."
The study began in June 2013 and is expected to be completed by winter 2016. Thursday's meeting was to show the direction FDOT is taking the concept and to obtain public feedback, according to FDOT District One communications specialist Robin Stublen.
"We are showing alternatives that have different results and getting feedback from the public and from that feedback, we'll work on coming up with a plan," said Stublen.
The project, now in the study and design phase and scheduled and funded to move forward next year, will cost about $5.7 million for a project with a total early construction cost estimate of almost $62 million.
Turley said Manatee County will seek funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration through the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. Until that happens: "There isn't a construction timeline," he said. "We'll have to wait until funding is available."
Yvonne Ward lives near the proposed project and said she's not a fan of roundabouts but is keeping an open mind.
"I'm not sure yet," she said. "There's a lot here to consider and I can't see how more traffic lights would help because there is already too much traffic on these bad roads."
Stublen said studies have shown roundabouts are safer and move traffic better than signalized intersections.
"They reduce crashes by about 78 percent and reduce the severity of crashes significantly," he said. "I know there are some people who get confused in roundabouts, but that's why proper signage and installation is important."
Targeted for roundabouts
Turley said six intersections in the project zone are targeted for roundabouts:
Off 15th Street East are 49th Avenue East and 61st Avenue East, which is not signalized;
Whitfield Road, Tallevast Road, 57th Avenue East and 61st Avenue East are also slated for roundabouts.
Stublen said if the county chooses traffic signals over roundabouts, two intersections now marked for roundabouts and without traffic lights will eventually be signalized.
Turley said roundabouts significantly improve traffic flow and work better than traffic signals and four-way stop sign intersections.
"Myth Busters even did a show on it," he said. "They showed that in a certain amount of time, 1,000 cars could pass through a four-way intersection compared with 1,500 cars through a roundabout. They slow traffic down, but they also keep traffic moving and it's better than sitting at a red light and not moving at all."
For more information on the project, visit multimodal15thstreet.com
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.