Editor & Publisher
Its no secret that Longboat Key has two great resources: unparalleled natural beauty and an unlimited supply of intelligent type-A personalities who generously not only question everything, but come armed with answers and edicts.
Town Manager Howard Tipton is finding that being fast on his feet after five months on the job means knowing every detail of the budget that he has to defend, how to fight FPL when the agency delays our town’s undergrounding project and dealing with an army of pickleballers who invariably are attempting to paddle the town into building more courts.
Longboat Key News asked Tipton about a few contentious issues that are swirling in the summer heat.
“It was disappointing news,” remarked Tipton when asked why the town had to delay finalizing a project it has painstakingly planned for years.
Tipton explained that it is not the town, but Florida Power and Light that is responsible for the contractor, Wilco, which is overseeing the project, getting the wrong transformers and not noticing it during the planning stages and approvals.
It is the singular most expensive Public Works project Longboat Key has undertaken at a cost of more than $40 million and now the project will not be completed until January 2024, an additional six months. More troubling is it puts the existing power poles in the central part of the island as fixtures once again as the town heads into a hurricane season. The transformers are reportedly not compatible with the mid-island phases of the project and therefore the overhead power lines must remain until the new transformers arrive.
The value of blame
Positioning and leveraging is part of a Town Manager’s job and Tipton made clear that the additional cost of replacing transformers and any delays ought be paid by FPL. He said that all of the other undergrounding efforts such as taking down the old Comcast cable lines and the installation of light poles can continue unabated.
Banking on a roundabout
Another conundrum arose recently in Town Hall when the Florida Department of Transportation told the Town that its planned roundabout for Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive is not viable in its current form and will take additional funds and engineering if the Town wishes to proceed. The problem is all in the banking.
According to the Town Manager, the bend in the road between Longboat Pass Bridge and Broadway is banked at about eight degrees and would need significant redesign and reconstruction to work with a roundabout at that location.
The problem is drivers in that banked section of road, are naturally driving at too fast a speed to safely enter a roundabout. Tipton says the Town would have to decrease the grade and remove the bank to what is called a “crowned” road that presents some issues.
A banked road conveniently drains on one side allowing a clear lane free of flooding during storm events. If the banking is removed, the road must be elevated and drainage on each side must be engineered. It also adds a road construction project to the $2.2 million roundabout project.
What particularly irked Longboat Key leaders and Town Staff over the past two weeks is the fact that the Town has all along submitted its engineering documents to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the agency said nothing until the plans were more than 90 percent complete.
When asked if the Town will request that FDOT pay additional funds beyond the $1.6 million it has pledged to contribute to the project, Town Manager Tipton responded, “Absolutely. It is now a bigger project, there is a gas line we wanted to avoid on one side of the road, which will present difficulty, but we really do want to see this done. We want to see the ability for pedestrians to be able to cross safely.”
Mayor Ken Schneier has indicated that the Town will have to look at its options, which include the possibility of a red light. But a red light appears dubious.
“FDOT has said pretty clearly they are against a red light at that intersection; they want to see a roundabout. We want to work closely with them up and down the island, beautifying Gulf of Mexico Drive, slowing down traffic and making the roadway safer for pedestrians,” said Tipton.
Later than sooner…
The Town Manager said it has been “an amazing experience” over the past five months he has held the position. “I just wish I had done it sooner,” Tipton added referring to his newfound job in the scale , intimacy and intensity found on Longboat Key.