MPO Votes to Halt Traffic Study

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After 18 months of work and $1 million spent, Lee County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization has asked the state to halt the San Carlos Boulevard study.

The MPO is an agency that prioritizes federal and state spending on roads in the county. It is comprised of elected officials from across the county, including Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, a former Beach mayor, and current Beach Council Member Tracey Gore.

Both Kiker and Gore asked for the delay.

“The suggestions you have here have been tried,’ Kiker told project consultants. “ They’ve been done and they don’t work.”

It’s likely the request – approved unanimously by the MPO – will mean the public will not get a chance to weigh-in on the proposed options at a Feb. 23 workshop.

That workshop, already a year behind the study schedule, will likely be cancelled or rescheduled.

“I’m a little concerned with going public without going to the elected officials that have been there and done that,” Kiker said.

Gore said that ideas that have been floated like elevated pedestrian crossovers and roundabouts simply would not work.

“Fort Myers Beach is just congested, and walkovers are not going to stop it,’ she said.

Gore said that proposals like eliminating the alternating light at Buttonwood/Prescott and installing a full signal at Main Street with two thru lanes onto The Beach across Matanzas Pass Bridge seem designed to filter the traffic once it reaches Estero Island.

“I think it’s better to keep the filtering off the island,” she said.

Part of the problem, Gore said, is that every weekend there are different people headed to The Beach, and most of them don’t know where they’re going.

Gore said she wants to see local residents weigh in on the possible changes, including members of the Beach Area Civic Association.

“I don’t want the people of San Carlos Island to think the town is trying to decide for them,” she said.

Jim Burch, a Cape Coral city councilman, said planners should be looking at alternative modes of transport. Burch said it seems the proposed fixes have been done.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” he said. “You can’t put 200,000 people in a town that will hold 4,500 comfortably. It will not work.”

From the Cape Coral perspective the bridges are jammed there too, Burch said. The commuter bottlenecks have not been eliminated by small fixes.

Burch also addressed the ongoing Estero Boulevard project.

“There’s a project on The Beach now, and there’s millions of dollars being spent and it’s not going very well,” he said.

Kiker, who has pushed the project and a county effort to speed the work up, disputed that.

“For those who are listening, the project is going very well,” he said. “It’s disruptive, but it has to happen.”

Kiker said what started as a $50 million, 10-year project has been made into an $80 million project that will take five or six years instead.

Kiker said repaving and re-striping won’t do the job, and wondered why the study doesn’t include efforts to help traffic leave The Beach, too.

FDOT district secretary L.K. Nandam said he would push for conversations with the local community. He said the entire southwest Florida coast faces many of the same congestion problems; problems engineers cannot build their way out of. He pointed out this specific study addresses congestion on San Carlos Boulevard headed onto the Beach, but he admitted traffic leaving the island should also be examined.

“We’re going to take a step back,” he said. “But our focus is on our roadway.”

Nandam warned that expectations for congestion improvements must be managed, because overwhelmed infrastructure on barrier islands up and down the coast cannot be built to deal with the huge number of people – and cars – headed to the coast.

Cape councilman Ricky Williams said it’s not about the number of people, but the number of cars headed for the island.

“You’re not going to put 1,000 cars into 100 parking spaces,” he said.

Williams said steps could be taken to discourage people from driving their cars to The Beach, steps like parking passes for residents only for example.

“We’re growing and we don’t have the infrastructure,” he said. “Fort Myers Beach may be the worst, but try the Midpoint Bridge. They’re trying to boil a gallon of water in a quart pot.”

Nandam said the study plans and options will be brought back to the MPO before a public unveiling is scheduled. The MPO meets monthly and will meet again on February 17. The not-yet-cancelled public workshop is scheduled for February 23.

 

Charlie Whitehead
President, Beach Area Civic Association