It could be the most studied road in Lee County, perhaps the United States. The Fort Myers Beach Town Council has been trying to figure out how to light up Estero Boulevard at night since at least 2013. One of the busiest Boulevards in Lee County becomes one of the most dangerous when the sun goes down.
It’s near total darkness on Estero Boulevard at night, even though there are light poles everywhere. When you mix the darkness in with an endless number of business entrances, residential streets and people crossing from one sidewalk to the other at will, it’s a cocktail for a potential tragedy, especially during season.
Next week darkness on the Boulevard takes center stage once again.
On Tuesday the Town Council will consider hiring its 4th lighting consultant at a cost of up to $185,000. And an FPL representative will make a presentation and answer questions.
The consultant, REDD Inc, DBA Town Lighting Engineers, was ranked the highest, out of only three bidding companies, by the town staff. The contract, if approved by council, includes a study that covers the entire design-bid-build process. The money for this consultant will have to come out of the town’s reserves as it was not budgeted for.
The major stumbling block to getting lights on the Boulevard is how to protect both human life and the turtles without spending millions of dollars. FPL has been a major roadblock in getting this accomplished. The state agency, which many refer to as a monopoly, has some Fort Myers Beach council members frustrated with outrageously high cost estimates and an unwillingness to work with the town to make the Boulevard safer while providing turtle-friendly lights. Estero Boulevard is certainly not a priority for FPL.
Something else to keep in mind is that Estero Boulevard is a Lee County Road, so that adds another government entity into the mix. And Fort Myers Beach does not want Estero Boulevard to turn into Burnt Store road in Cape Coral (see picture right).
For a little history on this issue, several years ago, TEAM Engineering out of Orlando completed an extensive study on the Estero Boulevard lighting challenge. It was commissioned by The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization for Fort Myers Beach (READ IT HERE).
The firm concluded the lighting on Estero Boulevard, as it still stands today, is confusing to drivers, who would be unable to make adjustments or react properly on the road at night. In some places lights were 100 feet apart, in other areas, 1,000 feet apart. The report included the following Lee County Data: “Between 2013 and 2016 there were 378 accidents on Estero Boulevard, including 15 pedestrian-related, 22 on bikes and 2 fatalities.” The firm recommended standardizing the situation by modifying 113 existing light fixtures and adding 87 supplemental ones.
However, if LED lights were used, the firm concluded the town would need between 400 and 500 light fixtures.
Then, in a supplement to the report, the firm made contact with FPL to get their option for turtle friendly lights. FPL said their only turtle-friendly option would require a total of 688 poles, more wiring and transformers, at cost $7.74 million.
On April 20th of last year, another consultant, Kristi Spohn, from SESCO Lighting, who’s also a wildlife friendly lighting expert made a presentation to the council providing a 3rd party view.
She described the previous MPO lighting assessment done by the engineers as “beautiful work” with “very thorough details,” however she criticized the recommendations stating they centered on only one source of fixture. She also referred to the FPL information as a “skewed report” and that other options should be explored to find the right solution. “In a wildlife area there’s not one fixture that will do the job, you have to look at the environment.”
She indicated the town has two options: 1) to work with FPL , which would be cheaper up front but a never ending lease and you would have to “hold their feet to the fire” to get the right fixtures or 2) to go with a private partner with greater upfront costs but would ensure ownership and future control of the lighting system.
On Tuesday, FPL’s presentation will address whatever plan they might have to “balance safety and environmental wildlife protection.” And we will carry the meeting live on our Facebook page.