You could hear a collective gasp when the Fort Myers Beach Town Council saw this picture of the Matanzas Pass Bridge redesign for the first time Thursday. It’s part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s foot-of-the-bridge design which is supposed to help with traffic flow as automobiles come over the bridge and onto the island.
Anyone who uses the bridge will notice the same thing the council did, there is no longer any room on the right side of the bridge for cyclists (or pedestrians) to travel onto the island. The council was under the impression, from previous presentations, that the project would include a walkway for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
For the most part pedestrians coming over the bridge now have to cross the street at the base of the bridge, on the main street side, to get to the walkway. As the bridge is set up now at least bicyclists can travel over the bridge with traffic using the wide bus and trolley lane. Under this plan, the walkway now on the bridge, would be widened to accomodate pedestrians and bicycles going in both directions.
FDOT Representative Chris Speece told the council the reason they are seeing this presentation is because FDOT has not been given the green light for an alternative plan which includes what’s called a cantilever that would allow the state to expand the right hand lane for pedestrian traffic.
FDOT spokesman Adam Rose told Beach Talk Radio News Thursday afternoon that the other alternative is still being evaluated by the department in Tallahassee and it’s getting an extra long look due to the recent building collapse in South Florida and other issues around the country with bridges. Speece said Thursday the state is doing a corrosion inspection.
Councilman Bill Veach said if this plan is the final plan he’s worried that bicyclists will have to weave in and out of traffic to get through.
As of today this is the state’s Recommended Preferred Alternative. A public hearing will be held on February 3rd at 5PM at Chapel By The Sea. You can also express your concerns to Speece directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If it’s determined that the right lane can be extended to accommodate pedestrian traffic, a second public hearing does not have to be held, according to Rose. That can be added to the project along the way.
When asked why the state doesn’t hold off on the February 3rd public hearing until a determination is made by the state to extend the right hand lane, Speece said, it would slow down the project and the “designers are raring to go.”
This is a $7 million project and extends all the way back to the alternating light at Buttonwood and Prescott, which is another issue that has the council concerned. The state plans to convert that from an alternating light to a regular traffic signal. Council members say the alternating light has prevented many road rage incidents as drivers on the right now need to merge over one lane to get onto the beach. The light, as it is now, limits the amount of vehicles that have to battle for space to get onto the bridge.
The state plan includes widening the right hand lane so there are two continuous lanes onto the bridge to keep traffic flowing. The council would like the state to at least consider keeping the alternating light even with the two continuous lanes.
With the two continuous lanes from Buttonwood and Prescott, all the way over the bridge, the next concern is the bottleneck at the base of the bridge, on the beach side, especially if drivers find themselves in the right hand lane but really want to be heading down Estero Boulevard or vice versa. There will be vehicles trying to switch lanes at the most congested intersection of the beach.
Keep in mind that there will also be more traffic lights in the area. FDOT is installing a new signal with crosswalks at SR 865 & Main street before the bridge and another signal at SR 865 & 5th Street/Estero Blvd. FDOT says the traffic light at 5th will be improved for “channelized pedestrian access.” There will also be a new traffic light on Estero Boulevard and Crescent by the new Margaritaville.
The town is looking into converting the parking spots in front of Winds into a second lane to relieve some of the congestion coming off the bridge.
The maze of crosswalks, which has gotten a lot of attention from the council and the community, got very little attention Thursday, mostly due to how shocked everyone was from the photo of the bridge changes. The council again pressed the state to look for ways to funnel pedestrians into one area to cross the street, either with a walkover or guardrails.
If all goes according to plan, the project could start by the middle of 2023 and be completed by the end of 2024.