Citizens divided on bridge closure; Council still to decide
By MATT BLUMENFELD, “mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org
Divisions among a community in southwest Cape Coral became more apparent Thursday night as residents sparred over the closure of the bridge on Southwest 28th Street.
More than 60 people showed up at Oasis Middle School to voice their concerns on the closing, with the majority of those in attendance saying they are against the bridge being closed to through traffic.
Those against the closing said the real problem with the street is not the volume of traffic that may be using it as a cut through between Skyline and Chiquita boulevards, but the speed of the cars on the road.
“I think the biggest issue on the road is not how we manage it, or close it, but how we enforce the speed,” said resident Tom Bamford. “Even with the bridge closed there is still speeding there.“
The numbers appear to confirm Bamford’s observation. Traffic engineer Rashad Hanbali told the crowd that while volume is down significantly on the east side of the bridge, it increased slightly on the opposite side. What is surprising, Hanbali pointed out, is that the average speed on the roadway jumped from between 3.5 mph and 8.5 mph after the bridge was closed.
“They were trying to make up for the increase in distance, so they are trying to cut down in time by speeding,” he said. “What might work from a perception standpoint might not work in reality as a solution.“
Resident Lou Stevens said those increased speeds make the road “not as safe as it was when the bridge was open.“
“There are a lot of people in our community that are against closing that bridge,” he added.
Hanbali also showed figures indicating that the extra mile per trip to take the detour around the bridge will result in an increase of $100 to $170 in fuel per vehicle.
Several in attendance asked the traffic experts what they could do to provide for traffic calming measures that do not include closing the bridge over the Aries canal.
“About three stop signs along 28th will solve that problem,” said resident Mark Smith, who volunteered to pay for those signs out of pocket. “I feel like the council was dumped by a vocal minority. We need to say we made a mistake, open it up.“
But Hanbali indicated that placing speed bumps or stop signs on the street have already been considered and dismissed. Stop signs, in particular, could lead to more problems as statistics show that the signs placed at intersections that do not warrant their implementation lead to more accidents and additional hazards.
“Stop signs are not the answer to speeding. They are not speed control devices,” he said.
Several residents from the same area who supported the street closure said that it is necessary because of future commercial development in the area.
Scott Bologna, who distributed a petition that helped facilitate the closure in March, said land acquisition firm Windsor Thomas is buying up land in the area and is moving quickly to assemble enough land to attract large box stores.
“It’s reasonable we can expect a development like Page Field Commons here,” said fellow resident Lee Mars. “Windsor Thomas wants this street open because it makes the commercial more valuable to them to have a back road access.“
Karie Rathbun, who organized Thursday’s meeting, spoke to representatives from Windsor Thomas who confirmed that there will be large-scale commercial development, with stores like Best Buy and Old Navy.
Mars pressed his case saying that the bridge needs to be closed now or the developers could be able to exert enough pressure over elected officials to keep it open forever.
“We understand that the inconvenience today is significant,” he said. “It’s virtually now or never.“
Councilmember Bill Deile noted that the battle over the bridge is far from over as the council still has to consider what will be put in place to permanently close the bridge, if the roadway is even to remain closed.
“What transpired on Mar. 10 was a vote to close the bridge temporarily to see what impact that would have on the perceived problem,” said Deile. “After council gets back in July and those quotes are in, we can then evaluate whether or not, one, we want to do this, and two, what is the cheapest way to do it.”