Those of you who haven’t been to our island in a few months are no doubt wondering what’s going on. Confronted with a maze of Bob’s Barricades upon coming over the bridge, visitors to our island will understandably have questions. The most important answer is, yes, we are open for business and what’s happening is a long-needed water and road improvement project that will eventually benefit everyone. And as with any improvements that involve a heavily-traveled roadway like Estero Boulevard, there will be some delays but local businesses and the Town of Fort Myers Beach are working hard to ensure those delays are minimal and our guests’ stay on the island remains a pleasant one.
The first part of this project, called ReFresh Fort Myers Beach began in 2013 when workers began replacing the Town’s aging – and often broken – water system. Approved by a huge majority of island voters via referendum in 2008, the project started with side streets off of Estero Boulevard and moved to the main road in anticipation of Lee County’s plans to upgrade Estero with sidewalks, landscaping and water drainage. The second part of the project, run by Lee County (owner of Estero Blvd.) is a reconstruction of the boulevard itself – including long-needed upgrades such as sidewalks, bicycle paths, new sewer lines and drainage improvements.
With the water main replacement project – including a new natural gas line – complete for the first segment of Estero, Lee County workers have completed the installation of a new sanitary sewer line for the first segment (Crescent Street to Red Coconut) and are now working on a new stormwater drainage system for the center of the boulevard.
“When the project is finished, the new drainage system will actually be in the middle of the boulevard, so the road will slope towards the center,” said Kaye Molnar of Cella Molnar and Associates, spokesperson for both projects.
The way it will work is this: for short segments at a stretch – such as Lani Kai/Avenue C to Miramar – workers will first grade the southbound lane, then dig a trench in the center lane to accommodate the new system, then grade the northbound lane, then put sidewalks in on the Gulf side followed by sidewalks on the bay side. All of this will take about 3 months per segment so businesses won’t have to endure it for very long.
“What will take some getting used to will be the fact that the road will be at different heights, so there will be a barrier wall going down the center of the Estero while that segment is being worked on,” Kaye said. “This will require people to make U-turns in the areas where the barricades are, so motorists headed either north or south along the section between the Lani Kai and Miramar will need to make those U-turns to access businesses on the opposite side of the road from where they’re headed.”
Workers will complete the Avenue C-Miramar section by mid September, and Kaye told us that the project will then skip a section and move to the area from Palm Avenue (next to DiamondHead) to Chapel Street, then skip again – with workers returning to the skipped sections once the project reaches the end of segment one near Red Coconut.
“Once FP&L and Comcast gets their poles out of the way, we expect the rest of these sections to really fly,” Kaye told us. “The remainder of the sections will get done a lot faster.”
Also in September, the 2nd phase of the Town’s waterline replacement project will begin – this will extend the line of barricades and construction down to Madera Road (just past Publix).
“Towards the middle of the month, sometime after Labor Day, people will see the new water mains on the side of the beach side of the road from Red Coconut to Washington Street, and the county will begin underground work for the new sanitary sewer lines on the bay side from Washington to Madera,” Kaye told us. “Though there will be flagging in the area by Red Coconut, we expect this segment to go much faster than the first. The two contractors are working together nicely, and they learned a lot from the first segment. Plus, they’re not going to encounter so much unexpected stuff when they dig because this area is much further from downtown.”
For safety reasons, much of the work must be done during daylight hours but work is halted on weekends to make way for visitors. Keep in mind that the busiest traffic times are between 3 and 5pm, with traffic relatively light the rest of the day usually.
The Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is doing everything they can to make the process easier. They are answering questions and providing help to any business, visitor or resident who needs it at their location in Key Estero Plaza, 1661 Estero Blvd. To learn more about the project, go to www.refreshfmb.com.
So please pardon our progress – we live in paradise!
Keri Hendry Weeg