Public-private partnership to widen Laurel Road advances
The formation of a public-private partnership to widen Laurel Road between Knights Trail Road and Jacaranda Boulevard moved a step closer to fruition over the holiday season, following positive meetings between developer Pat Neal and Sarasota County staff.
In a Jan. 2 letter to Venice Mayor Ron Feinsod, Neal said that both Sarasota County Engineer Spencer Anderson and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis were “optimistic and cooperative about creating a public/private partnership for the widening of Laurel Road.”
To kick off that partnership, the Venice City Council must authorize spending $400,000 in road mobility fees collected within the city on the road design.
In his letter, Neal also asks the council to commit any additional impact or mobility fee funds that may be available after the funding of the widening of the intersection of Pinebrook Road and Venice Avenue to the widening of Laurel Road.
Neal said that once design documents are 30% complete — the typical stage where construction estimates can be properly forecast — Neal Communities will develop options to finance the construction. Funding sources could include the State Infrastructure Bank, the County Incentive Grant Program, gas tax revenue, Economic Development funds, one-cent sales tax funds and creation of a Municipal Services Benefit District.
Neal, president of Neal Communities, either owns or represents entities that own most of the land along the south side of Laurel Road. The developer has built roads through nine public-private partnerships within Sarasota and Manatee counties, as well as the city of North Port.
Feinsod said Monday that Laurel Road is a complicated issue and he expected discussion of the matter to be on the Jan. 14 council agenda in some form. He does have some reservations on committing funding now, since differing forecasts have that section of road failing in 2030 or in 2040.
“I think we have time, and I don’t want to rush this because of how complex it is and how it affects the area around where the hospital is going to be,” Feinsod said.
“I think there’s still a lot of questions as to how critical that is going to be to widen; we don’t really know what kind of traffic is going to be there at this point.
“If we’re talking a failure at 2040 on that section of road, we can start on that 10 years down the road and still have plenty of time to get things done,” he later added.
Last summer, Venice City Council Member Mitzie Fiedler broached the idea of a public-private partnership with Neal to widen Laurel Road.
Feinsod and two other council members who were elected in November, Dr. Joe Neunder and Nick Pachota, all pledged on the campaign trail to fast-track the widening of that section of Laurel Road.
On Nov. 19, 2019, at the first meeting of the new council, it unanimously agreed to give city staff its blessing to start discussion with Sarasota County staff on the future of widening Laurel Road, as well as improving Pinebrook Road from Laurel Road south to Center Road.
Sarasota County already has the $8.6 million improvement of the intersection of Pinebrook Road with Venice and Ridgewood avenues in its capital improvement budget, but funding has yet to be dedicated to the widening of Laurel Road.