It’s been nearly four months since the Lee County Board of Commissioners voted to turn over $1.4 million to the town of Fort Myers Beach to help pay for new lights on Estero Boulevard. As of today the Boulevard remains as dark as it ever was and the town doesn’t have those funds. Here’s why…
After several readers on Fort Myers Beach reached out to us wondering why the crosswalks on Fort Myers Beach were without lights now that the Boulevard project is complete, we contacted both the town of Fort Myers Beach and Lee County to find out what’s going on with the $1.4 million that was originally slated to be used for that purpose.
Fort Myers Beach Communications Coordinator Jenny Dexter said, “the town has not received the money yet.” Lee County Communications Director Betsy Clayton confirmed the money has not been moved to the beach yet. When we asked why, Clayton said the county is still waiting for the town to respond to their offer.
Councilman Dan Allers told us the county is still waiting for the town to decide if it wants to accept the money. At its February 15th meeting, Lee County Commissioners made it clear the town would not be getting any more funds to light the Boulevard. This came after Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy was saying at public meetings that he had assurances from Lee County Commissioners that money to pay for new amber lights would be forthcoming. Murphy took the lead in negotiating with Commissioners for funds to help pay for lights on Estero Boulevard, however, his efforts did not result in any money.
The county has always been committed to lighting 42 crosswalks on Estero Boulevard and years ago had estimated that cost to be $1.4 million. After the Fort Myers Beach town council made it clear they wanted Lee County to fork over more money, to pay for all new amber lights, on Estero Bouleavrd (a lee County owned road), commissioners voted to turn the $1.4 million over to Fort Myers Beach and allow the town to use it for lighting as it sees fit. Estimates on lighting the entire Boulevard with new amber (turtle-friendly) lights have been estimated between several hundred thousand dollars to millions of dollars depending on who you ask.
The town is waiting for FPL to complete testing an amber light that would help cover some of the cost of new lights under FPL’s tariff program. The test may be done in July.
As we reported back in February, a previous town council did agree to pay for lighting (over and above the crosswalks) back when the Estero Boulevard construction project was first being discussed. The late Larry Kiker was on the county commission at the time. Kiker was very instrumental in getting the road construction project through at the county level. Fort Myers beach Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros was on the town council at the time this was being discussed and agreed to.
Deputy County Manager Dave Harner gave county commissioners a brief history lesson on Estero Boulevard back in February. He said 7 years ago, the county committed to paying for lights at the crosswalks on Estero Boulevard, and the town “agreed to pay for the rest of the lighting along the corridor.”
He also said Estero Boulevard does not meet the requirements needed to add lighting. Those requirements are 20,000 vehicles per day and a nighttime crash history. Harner said 84% of the crashes on Estero Boulevard happen during the day.
Right now the town has a mish-mash of lights, many of which have been turned off because they are not turtle friendly.