What’s Going on With Estero Blvd?
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 this month 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, actually broke ground 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 section of Estero, Lee County workers have been busy installing new sanitary sewer lines down that segment – work that will be nearly complete by the beginning of July.
What’s next is a bit complex. With the sanitary sewer line installation making its way to the end of the first segment, in late April workers for Lee County’s Estero Boulevard Reconstruction Project began the process of putting in the center line drainage system and doing the actual reconstruction of the boulevard.
“This is going to be a big shift in regards to what people are used to seeing,” said Kaye Molnar of Cella Molnar and Associates, spokesperson for both projects. “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. Since there is already a drainage system in place from Crescent Street to Avenue C (just south of the Lani Kai), it’s not necessary to put one in there, but we will putting in the new system from Avenue C south to – eventually – the entire island.”
The way it will work is this: for short segments at a stretch – such as 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, which in July will be on the beach side of Del Mar and Mango Streets.”
Workers will complete the Avenue C-Miramar section in July, 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 by Red Coconut.
“This way we can keep the traffic flowing, though it will shift from one side to the other,” Kaye said. “Also in July, we are going to be paving over some of the bumps in the northbound lane. This area will remain temporary pavement until the final sewer connections are made and the road construction is complete, but we are going to try and make it smoother.”
Molnar told us that – except for unforeseen, intermittent problems – two lanes of traffic are kept open at all times during this work.
The Town is working with visitors, residents and businesses to address their biggest concerns and schedule work hours accordingly. 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 3pm 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 download a ‘Pardon Our Progress – Fort Myers Beach Construction Survival Toolkit’, go to www.fortmyersbeach.org for a list of links, taxi and bus services and other information. To learn more about the project itself, go to www.refreshfmb.com.
“We are open for business,” said Chamber President Bud Nocera. “These are growing pains that are signs of greater economic prosperity on the island.”
So please Pardon Our Progress – we live in paradise!
Keri Hendry Weeg