Bridge, San Carlos Blvd Traffic

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Transportation Study to Collect Public Input in June

 

Which public entity owns which road is often a source of confusion for visitors and newcomers to our island.

In and around our little community, Lee County owns Estero Boulevard from Time Square south, and the Town of Fort Myers Beach owns the road from Time Square north and all of the side streets. San Carlos Boulevard and the Matanzas Pass Bridge to the Square are owned by the state of Florida. While it can all be a bit confusing at times, these three entities all work on ways to solve the island’s traffic issues and those of neighboring San Carlos Island.

In December of 2015, the Director of the Southwest Florida Area Florida Department of Transportation, District 1, Carmen Monroy, made a presentation to a Town advisory committee where she explained that a $1.3 million federally funded Project Development & Environment (PD&E) study – which follows the Operational and Analysis Study and makes use of that data – on traffic and pedestrian issues on the San Carlos Boulevard corridor would commence in March of 2015.

“This corridor will cover San Carlos Boulevard from Pine Ridge Road to the traffic light at Time Square – including the Matanzas Pass Bridge – all of which is owned by the state,” she said. “This study is very comprehensive and will take in all work done previously by groups including the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in order to offer recommendations on how to improve traffic, safety issues and mobility.”

FDOT is planning to begin holding public hearings on the findings in June, with an end to the study expected by the spring of 2017. In a recent email, FDOT Project Manager Tony Sherrard said that examples of potential improvements include: “roundabouts, improved signalization, adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes where currently not present, enhanced transit service, and evaluating the structural capacity of the Matanzas Pass bridge and Hurricane Bay bridge to add a sidewalk on the west side”.

“The FDOT has changed the way we approach transportation projects compared to the past,” he said. “Instead of looking at pure capacity improvement to add lanes we are looking with more emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle, transit and livable communities. San Carlos is just that type of project where we are unable to add capacity to handle the volume of traffic due to the two lanes currently on the beach. Therefore, we are looking at alternative modes of transportation that will help with the congestion. We are looking at improving the interaction of these types of transportation with the general traffic flow to optimize the throughput. Because we gathered so much information during the beginning of the study we are making sure we analyze all the data collected and making sure that any improvement will positively affect the travel time to the beach area. We are still in the planning phase and will bring to the public concepts that we think will improve all modes of transportation. Our time frame for that public workshop is early summer as it stands today.”

Sherrard explained that FDOT’s main goal is to reduce the time getting to and from the island as much as possible.

“Our main focus is on the San Carlos corridor and the intersections and bridges along that corridor,” he said. “FDOT has no jurisdictions outside the intersections along San Carlos. Any improvements on the side streets that are needed to enhance the flow of traffic on San Carlos will be forwarded to the local City and County transportation departments.”

“We are looking at improving the intersection at 5th street either with a roundabout or a signal at the old San Carlos intersection,” he continued. “We are also looking at removing the pedestrian crosswalk in the curve and incorporating an overpass if possible. Our main goal in the Time Square area is to separate the pedestrian traffic from the motorized traffic. This will enhance throughput for vehicles to travel further down the beach.”

To date, this will be the 33rd study of San Carlos Boulevard – with this one covering the 3.1 miles from Summerlin Road to Crescent Street. According to the website associated with the study – http://www.swflroads.com/sr865/sancarlosboulevard/ – once it is complete, additional PD&E studies may be required for some of the improvements “in order to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Complying with NEPA requirements makes future phases, such as design and construction, eligible for federal funding”.

Since the study is just beginning to go into the public input stage, ‘everything is on the table’ according to Consultant RK&K Engineers project manager Charles Bleam.

“The project is looking at ‘transportation alternatives’ including trolleys, bike lanes, etc., – operational analysis is looking at every intersection and turning movement between Summerlin and Crescent Street,” he said. “The study began with 24-7 traffic counts made during January and February.”

“Possibilities of solutions include: the elimination of crosswalk on curve at the beach end, the creation of a pedestrian overpass, improvements (signal or roundabout) at 5th St. or Old San Carlos, sidewalks/bike paths added to the west side of Matanzas and Hurricane Pass bridges, roundabout/improvements at Main Street and/or Buttonwood and extended turn lanes at Pine Ridge.”

FDOT’s website explained that they will be using several methods for providing and receiving information from the public – including local officials and agencies.

“They include this website, newsletters, presentations to neighborhoods, small groups and organizations, an alternatives public workshop and a formal public hearing. These meetings will help us identify issues for concern and potential solutions. The alternatives public workshop is held after we develop preliminary alternatives. We will conduct the hearing to present a preferred alternative(s) and the no-build alternative.”

The PD&E study is the final step before FDOT makes recommendations to the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

 

Keri Hendry Weeg

Charlie Whitehead contributed to this article.