We’re Playing Chicken With People’s Lives

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Those are the words of Fort Myers Beach town councilman Dan Allers regarding the lighting situation on Estero Boulevard. The Michigan woman killed by an alleged drunk driver on January 27th happened at the end of his street. The accident re-ignited the discussion about how dark Estero Boulevard is at night and who’s going to pay for new lights.

Mayor Ray Murphy took on the job of negotiating with Lee County last year to try to get the county to pay for the lights the Fort Myers Beach town council approved. Lee County owns Estero Boulevard. The town council wants new amber lights installed. Murphy told the council Monday, “I made a few phone calls. I’m still waiting to hear back.”

Up to this point Lee County has only committed to $1.4 million to pay for lights at 42 crosswalks as part of the Estero Boulevard road project. Murphy believes it’s the county’s responsibility to pay to upgrade all the lights on Estero Boulevard because it’s their road. You could also sense his frustration with the county because he says they are not responding to him.

Back in January we were told by Lee County that, “The town’s request for additional lighting on Estero Boulevard is not scheduled for a BoCC agenda at this time. Nothing has changed.”

When we reached out yesterday, there appeared to be some movement from that statement. “The county has received the town’s request and is evaluating it.” When we asked the county what that “request” was, we were told it was the town’s resolution (21-52) which recommends that Lee County enter into an agreement with FPL or another entity of its choosing to expeditiously install amber lights on Estero Boulevard.

When pressed by councilman Dan Allers about where the negotiations were, Murphy said he was given assurances there was something forthcoming. “That hasn’t happened yet. It’s their road and it’s their responsibility to do something. I’ve been assured they are going to step up. I just don’t know when. I’m waiting to see what they are going to do. Our demands are for you, Lee County, to step up and light your road. Fund the project.”

There was a suggestion that more council members, other than Murphy, put the heat on the county to step up and respond to to the town’s request to pay for the new lights.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt jumped in and said he’s not been involved in the discussions but perhaps the town could find out what their strategy is to see how we can support that strategy. “I do think every time we indicate a sense of loss of patience, we’re hurting our cause. In some cases it’s a game of chicken to see who blinks first.” Why the town’s manager is not involved in the negotiations is puzzling. Isn’t that his job?

Allers wasn’t having any of that answer. “Roger, I kind of cringe at what you’re saying there. We’re playing chicken with people’s lives. We’re not doing anything. We need to move this forward. We need to do something. We haven’t even given the county a plan so they can analyze the cost.”

A consultant the town has so far paid $120,000 for a lighting plan provided the town council with several options (see below):

Turtle season begins in May and, if nothing changes, some of the lights now on Estero Boulevard will need to be turned off at night because they may contribute to turtle disorientation. With Estero Boulvard construction complete, new sidewalks in place, more people riding bikes, scooters and walking, and a non-existent off-season, many on the beach are saying the accidents and deaths on the Boulevard will continue.

Perhaps the latest accident will accelerate what gets done to improve the lighting. If Lee County decides not to pay for the lights, the town council may have to consider taking the issue directly to beach taxpayers and ask them if they are willing to pay for new lights on their own.

 

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