The gateway to Estero Island and beyond is expected to get a facelift in the future.
Officials from town, county and the state level as well as hired engineers discussed options for a planning process about transportation improvements to San Carlos Boulevard, the bridge and the bottleneck area of Fort Myers Beach during a Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization Stakeholders' Workshop at Town Hall recently.
A project development and environment study is being conducted to check on road impact, project feasibility, right-of-way development and to see how wide the boulevard can be expanded. The environmental and engineering process was developed by the Florida Department of Transportation in order to determine social, economic, natural and physical environmental impacts associated with a proposed transportation improvement project.
Affected residents and officials were invited. Public input has been sought for preliminary study designs, which are aimed at pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle. Once all is tabulated, officials look to move forward to a second stage.
"This process can result in meaningful and significant improvements to a beach that we all share that is promoted world-wide and a center for our community," said Carmen Monroy, the director of the Southwest Area Office for Florida Department of Transportation. "I'm building every expectation that we deliver the very best as possible product that our PD&E improves that corridor."
The overall project is anticipated to continue with a preliminary design and engineering process later this year.
"We are learning what's important with stakeholders in the community," said Jacobs Engineering's Ned Buyers. "The Department of Transportation views San Carlos Boulevard as a real priority for future transportation improvements. This is really the starting point."
Options for suggested improvements on that road were reviewed with criteria involving safety, mobility, cost and impact. A list of suggested improvements were rated with the different criteria. Officials developed priorities from the list that included: 1) landscaping; 2) sidewalk gaps; 3) bike lanes; 4) pedestrian crossings involving crosswalks; 5) landscaping median; 6) roadway design; 7) many trolley options, including better service and center lane options; 8) bridge toll; 9) bridges replacement; 10) realigning Time Square/Seafarer's area intersection; 11) Times Square roundabout; 12) main street intersection; 13) Buttonwood intersection; 14) Siesta Drive intersection; and 15) Pine Ridge Road intersection.
"The condition of (Matanzas Pass) Bridge is in good shape and is not on a replacement schedule at this time," said Monroy, when pressed for a timeline.
Landscaping on the center lane was questioned due to the need for emergency vehicles that utilize that lane.
Officials narrowed down the list by selecting their own priorities during a voting process. The lower rated priorities were removed for this particular exercise but not placed out of the study.
Times Square intersection received the most votes and the sidewalk issue on Matanzas Pass Bridge, one that requested pedestrian walks on both sides of the bridge, were the top vote getters.
Florida DOT officials are looking to study not only San Carlos Boulevard but the lanes over the bridge to either the Times Square intersection or to continue to Crescent Street. A unanimous decision was to form a partnership with Lee County to extend the study to Crescent Street.
Recommendations are expected out of the PD&E study process. Momentum has been developed, says officials.
Three levels of expense were discussed. The more expensive one was stated to be in excess of $20 million, while the medium cost range was from $5 to $20 million and the lower being less than $5 million. Right-of-way impacts and environmental impacts will be looked at.
Further future traffic impacts that were not discussed included the proposed San Carlos Island's "Destination Resort Mixed Use" redevelopment (one that had an original projection to possess 271 dwelling units, 450 hotel rooms, 75,000 square feet of convention center space, 15,000 square feet of general and medical office space, 85,000 square feet of commercial retail space as well as 608 units of dry storage and 242 wet slips) down the east side of Main Street and the proposed Wal-Mart project further up the boulevard at Summerlin Square.
Monroy cautioned everyone to take in all future decisions and relate transportation as a network.
"When we talk about any improvements to this area, it has to be in context," she said. "We can do much to improve certain roadways, but it is what happens on the islands and what happens in those adjoining areas that are equally important. So we have to make sure that in this decision-making process that we take into account all the future decisions that are going in."
Monroy called this particular process of the study an important one for affected residents and officials of both SCI and the Beach.
"I feel that you now have ownership of this process," she said. "How successful they are is how much ownership you take of it.
The project will now face steps to continue building consensus, establish an action plan and conduct the PD&E.
Monroy stated her work is done through the MPO, which has a leadership role in planning and reporting on transportation improvements. The local state DOT office works closely with them to see projects through. She stressed the timeliness of such a project.
"This is an opportunity to get projects identified and get something done there," she said. "If we miss this opportunity, the next opportunity to get another study or get something programmed will be in six years.
"I am challenging you to stay involved in the process and follow it carefully," she said. "I urge you to stay engaged, stay committed to the process and to be truly stakeholders in this process."