On Friday morning, members of the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) met in the City of Cape Coral’s Council Chambers for their monthly meeting where they discussed moving the completion of the Estero Boulevard up into the County’s 5-year window. While that is wonderful news to the residents and businesses of Fort Myers Beach, this group also makes important decisions that affect all road projects in Lee County.
The MPO consists of 18 voting members and one non-voting member: all five county commissioners, three elected officials from the City of Bonita Springs – currently Mayor Peter Simmons, Vice-Mayor Peter O’Flynn and Council members Fred Forbes; four from the City of Cape Coral – Mayor Marni Sawicki, Council members Marilyn Stout, John Carioscia and Rick Williams; three from the City of Fort Myers – Mayor Randy Henderson Council members Johnny Streets, Jr. and Mike Flanders; one elected official each from the cities of Fort Myers Beach (Council member Tracey Gore), Sanibel (Mayor Kevin Ruane) and Estero (Mayor Nick Batos). The Executive Director is Don Scott.
They meet once a month, with a mission of providing leadership in planning and promoting a comprehensive transportation system that encompasses many different modes of getting from Point A to Point B, while “encouraging a positive investment climate and foster sustainable development sensitive to community and natural resources”. They also serve as the designated planning agency for Good Wheels, a program for the ‘transportation disadvantaged’.
According to their website, www.leempo.com, “Lee County MPO’s vision is to have a multi-jurisdictional, integrated multi-modal transportation system that safely and efficiently moves people and goods to, through, and within our area, and which enables Lee County and the surrounding areas to flourish in the global marketplace”.
They accomplish this by seeking out public input early in the decision making process, and focusing on those who might otherwise ‘slip through the transportation cracks’, like low income and minority households, and those with limited mobility – such as housebound seniors. Normally the MPO annually solicits proposals for transportation enhancement projects on local roads from the public. Applications may include installation of sidewalks, bike paths, and street enhancement improvement. Prior to making decisions, the MPO receives recommendations from the Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), the Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board (LCB), the Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinating Committee (BPCC), and the Traffic Management and Operations Committee (TMOC).
At Friday’s meeting, the MPO members present discussed items as varied as bicycle/pedestrian paths in Cape Coral, a joint participation agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for public transportation and reviewed the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for fiscal year 2016/17 through 2020/21 – with a final approval coming at their meeting on June 17th. Projects for the TIP are selected based on a number of criterion, including ease of implementation – if Right of Way (ROW) already exists, cost of utility improvements, overall cost, consistency with local plans, connecting to parks or to where people live and intermodal connectivity.
It was Dave Loveland of Lee County Department of Transportation (LDOT) who brought up Estero Boulevard.
“I’d like to see us advance Estero into the 5-year window,” he said. “The evaluation of this is still underway, but we can separate out the Big Carlos Pass bridge from the three other bridges on Hickory Boulevard designated for replacement and defer the other bridges outward to move Estero up.”
Other upcoming MPO projects discussed at Friday’s meeting include a round-about at the intersection of McGregor and Colonial, the BCP bridge itself – which is moving into the design phase as the county asks for $25 million in state and federal funding to match the local contribution and a plan from LeeTran to increase the number of busses running on cheaper propane fuel to 100%.
After the meeting, we asked Commissioner Larry Kiker about Estero Boulevard, and he explained that the idea is to find a way to fund the project so it can happen faster.
“We are working to get that funding to occur within 5 years,” he said. “But there are a lot of variables here – one of them being the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s waterline replacement project. We need to make sure they are going to be able to pay for that as no one wants to see the road torn up twice.”
When asked if recent Town Hall controversy would have any impact on the county’s road project, Kiker replied “I’ve been working on this for 10 years. No single councilperson with misplaced information is going to change that.”
Keri Hendry Weeg