(By Ed Ryan) It’s one of the biggest traffic bottle-necks in all of Lee County, especially during season. And, it’s the most important intersection on Fort Myers Beach.
The Fort Myers Beach town council was expected to hear from the Department of Transportation at its May 17th meeting regarding the new configuration at the foot of the Matanzas Pass bridge. That presentation has been delayed, to at least June, according to town manager Roger Hernstadt. The foot of the bridge reconfiguration is a crucial piece of what’s turned into a complete transformation in a small area of Fort Myers Beach.
Within a several block area, Times Square will be redeveloped, Bayside Park is getting a facelift, two new traffic lights will be installed and TPI’s Margartitaville resort will usher old, ugly, hurricane-ravaged buildings into the modern era. And, at some point, there may even be lights on Estero Boulevard.
What makes this big project in such a small area even more interesting is that there are so many entities involved. The state owns the bridge, the county owns Estero Boulevard, the town will be working on the Times Square and Bayside Park projects and TPI is a private developer.
All of these improvements, the Renaissance of Fort Myers Beach as Councilman Jim Atterholdt calls it, will certainly attract more people to the island. How the traffic flows onto Estero Boulevard and toward Old San Carlos is such an important piece to all of these improvements. That’s why hearing what the state has to say about that landing spot once visitors cross the bridge is so important.
How traffic flows to and from Fort Myers Beach has been the topic of nearly 40 studies over the years. Part of the discussion has included converting the bus only lane on the bridge into a second lane that helps keep traffic flowing once drivers arrive at the foot of the bridge. Adding a bike lane has been discussed being that more and more people are biking in every direction on the beach. Coordinated traffic lights at the base of the bridge and Crescent street are also in the plans.
This is the latest rendering we’ve seen from the state. It’s at least 6 months old.
There is some disagreement about how many crosswalks should be located at the foot of the bridge. The current State D.O.T. design of the project includes several pedestrian crosswalks. There are many people who believe the free-for-all type pedestrian crossings contribute to the traffic back-up over the bridge. Fort Myers Beach public safety committee chairman John Goggin doesn’t want there to be any crosswalks in that area, preferring to funnel people to one crossing location to keep the traffic flowing. He has not gotten any response from the town council on his idea.
Originally, a public hearing about the project was supposed to be held by the state in early 2021. That has not happened as far as we know and it’s unknown at this time when a public hearing might be held. It’s unknown when any of the construction on this project might start.
Margaritaville construction is expected to begin in July. The Times Square project has been pushed back to Summer of 2022. Bayside Park should begin soon.