VENICE -- As Manatee County's 15th Street East Complete Street Project moves into final design this year, a combination of roundabouts and signalized intersections are being recommended along the 4.5-mile stretch, a Florida Department of Transportation official said Monday.
With five roundabouts being proposed for the project, which extends along 15th Street East/U.S. 301 Boulevard East from Tallevast Road to U.S. 41, the roundabouts will add between 12 to 13 percent to the overall project cost compared to doing all signalized intersections. However, the cost difference will be recovered in less than five years, according to FDOT's presentation at Monday's Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting at the Venice Community Center.
Roundabouts are being proposed to be built at Tallevast Road, Whitfield Avenue, 57th Avenue East, 51st Avenue East and 49th Avenue East. Signals are being proposed for 63rd Avenue East, 53rd Avenue East, Ninth Street East and 44th Avenue East. Manatee County Commission could recommend approval of the combination of roundabouts and signals at major intersection as the preferred alternative during Tuesday's commission meeting.
Along this stretch, there have been 888 crashes from 2009 to 2013 with seven fatalities.
By putting in modern roundabouts, there is a 90 percent reduction in fatalities and serious injuries, FDOT District One Secretary Billy Hattaway said. Between 35 and 40 percent of fatalities or serious injuries that occur in Florida happen at signalized intersections, Hattaway said.
"There is no treatment that is more effective in improving safety than the modern roundabout," he said.
Commissioner Larry Bustle said there are major differences between traffic circles and roundabouts and it is important to make sure the public is aware of the difference.
"They categorize a roundabout as the same thing and it is not true," Bustle said. "This is a roundabout. This is not a traffic circle."
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh echoed Bustle.
"I think it really is an educational thing that our citizens need to learn what we are looking at doing and how it might affect the roads," Baugh said.
Hattaway said the district is taking the lead in the state to put together a public-involved approach to educate motorists.
Other project improvements include widening the roadway from two to three lanes, which includes a center two-way left-turn lane; bicycle lanes; sidewalks; pedestrian crossings; bus stop improvements; and street lighting, according to Monday's presentation.
But while the design is funded, right-of-way acquisition and construction are currently not programmed and unfunded, FDOT project manager David Turley said. The signalized intersections are estimated to cost $61 million while the roundabouts are closer to $69 million, Turley has previously said.
"Once we get into design, we will be working with Manatee County to split it into more buildable sections so it is not one major hit to the MPO funding," Turley said Monday.
FDOT is looking to move to a public hearing on March 10, Turley said.
While design is programmed, Bustle said they need to really focusing their lobbying efforts on 15th Street East since construction is currently unfunded.
"15th Street East will relieve 301," Bustle said. "It will relieve 75 in my opinion as an alternative north-south arterial so it behooves us to start talking now about how to build it."
Construction funding is usually set in the design phase, Hattaway said.
"Typically the funding for construction is set when we get far enough into the design phase to provide accurate information on what the construction is going to be," he said.
Commissioner Betsy Benac said this is an important project as it is a parallel road to U.S. 41.
"People keep asking us for more pedestrian improvements on U.S. 41 and we are doing what we can on U.S. 41, but that's not going to be a place to ride your bike," Benac said. "This is a parallel facility that has so many opportunities to create a great urban environment in an area that has been so long neglected so I hope that we will continue to keep our focus on trying to find funding for construction."
Prior to the regular meeting Monday, the Sarasota/Manatee MPO had a joint regional meeting with the Charlotte County-Punta Gorda MPO. During the joint meeting, FDOT delivered an update on Florida's Future Transportation Corridors, which will provide solutions for or alternatives to existing congested corridors and improve connectivity. Concept, evaluation, project development and implementation are the steps in the future corridor planning process.
"Each region really does have a role in this process with us," Laura Lockwood, urban manager with FDOT, said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.