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Monday, 17 August 2015 11:51


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Fort Myers Beach motorists are getting a taste of Christmas in August.

Unfortunately it’s Christmas-type traffic.

The joint town/county project that will give the entire road a facelift got underway in late July as workers began re-milling asphalt in preparation for waterline and natural gas line work. It’s the first salvo in a project that will affect Estero Boulevard for the next decade.

The primary goals of Lee County’s $50 million project are to expand bicycle and pedestrian access and make the road safer. In other words a $50 million, decade-long road project is not specifically designed to make traffic flow better.

Plans do call for 9-foot sidewalks on both sides of the road, but they do not widen lanes of the road and include “sharrows” that mix bike traffic with cars.

The plan is rooted in a streetscape plan the Beach Town Council approved in 2000. The plans, at least on the recently-begun northern segment between Crescent Street and Lovers Lane, call for 9-foot sidewalks on both sides of the road and 10-foot car/bike lanes with an 11-foot center turn lane.

That’s all jammed into a tight 50-foot right-of-way. The project cost some business owners some landscaping and will impact some parking.

The real impact of the county project, according to County Commissioner Larry Kiker, will actually take place outside its boundaries.

“There’s a reason the project starts here,” he said, pointing to Crescent Street on the map.

That’s because the Estero Boulevard project, as big as it is, is not the only thing going on.

North of Crescent Street is where the action is…or could be.

That’s where hotelier Tom Torgerson has invested almost $18 million in beachfront property and of land across Estero Boulevard. Then there’s the county-owned land just north of that.

And perhaps most key is the Florida Department of Transportation study recently begun of the entire length of San Carlos Boulevard. The state study will stretch across the Matanzas Pass Bridge to the state-owned land at the beach end of the bridge.

“They’re meeting with people right now,” said Johny Limbaugh, an engineer with the county Metropolitan Planning Organization who has worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. “The MPO is kind of waiting for the FDOT to do its thing.”

FDOT spokesman Zachary Birch said the state study has only just begun. He said the state study would typically have stopped at the bridge, but it will instead extend onto the island.

“We did agree to extend it down through the Times Square area and a little ways down the road,” he said.

Birch won’t pre-guess the study, but Kiker, a Fort Myers Beach resident and its former mayor, said between the potential hotel plans, the county-owned property and the two road projects something is bound to happen north of Crescent Street.

“I know the state is looking at a roundabout,” he said. “I know they’ll be looking into re-routing Estero Boulevard.”

Kiker’s met with Torgerson, as has County Manager Roger Desjarlais, according to lobbyist logs.

Town Manager Don Stilwell said he’s heard talk of a roundabout as well, and he’s also talked with Torgerson, a part-time Fort Myers Beach resident.

Kaye Molnar is half the P.R. firm Cella Molnar & Associates, hired by project manager Chris-Tel Construction to handle publicity for the Estero Boulevard project. Molnar said the future of the project will hopefully see few days like the ones Beach motorists are enduring as the water line replacement project gets started.

“The water line project will take six months, and the Estero Boulevard project will be well underway by then,” she said.

There will soon be two waterline crews working, Molnar said, so work should proceed quickly and with as little traffic impact as possible.

But to Councilwoman Summer Stockton’s question about a completion date Molnar said the work will go on.

“You won’t see an end to it,” she said.

The first phase of the waterline project is expected to cost the town $4.5 million. County commissioners have yet to approve a maximum price for the first segment of road.

Beach Vice Mayor Dan Andre, who ran the council’s first August meeting in Mayor Anita Cereceda’s absence, said he’s been getting emails about the traffic delays.

“When it rains we’d get emails saying the road was flooded,” he said. “Now we’re fixing it and we get calls about traffic.”

Molnar said that between the water line work and the road project the community is left with little choice.

“The infrastructure just has to be replaced,” she said. “It’s a system that’s been hodge-podged together since the 1950’s.

On the San Carlos Boulevard front Birch said consultants will likely have traffic counts and other research ready soon.

“We’re trying to move the project along because we realize there’s a need for us all to work together,” he said.

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