MPO OKs Pine Island Road project
A road project that will widen Pine Island Road from two lanes to four from Chiquita Boulevard west to Burnt Store Road still has many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome before construction can begin, but the project passed one of those obstacles Friday when funding for it was unanimously approved by the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
City leaders say the new lanes will aid hurricane evacuations for residents in Pine Island and northwest Cape Coral and lure commercial developers to the area.
“It’s a good evacuation route, and more significantly for Cape Coral, it will help facilitate the growth along that corridor,” Cape Coral Mayor Jim Burch said.
Thanks to legislation signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist last month, the state will reimburse Cape Coral for the cost of the project, some $54.5 million, in $5 million installments beginning in 2015.
Meanwhile, the city is developing a way to fund the project in the form of assessments and the establishment of a transportation concurrency exception area, in which increases in property tax revenues would go towards widening the road.
Former Cape Coral Mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz said the project is one that has been eyed by the city since the late 1980s, during his tenure.
“It’s never been able to get past the funding hurdle,” Mazurkiewicz said.
But the recent legislation, which Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, attempted to pass the last few years, cleared the path to pay for the project.
“That’s directly a result of Rep. Aubuchon’s work. That’s no secret,” Mazurkiewicz said.
Besides easing congestion during evacuations, the project has been coveted by the Cape because it is uniquely barren, and will add to a commercial tax base that is lacking in the city.
“On both sides of the street there are very large 10-acre parcels,” Councilmember Gloria Tate said. “It is more of a blank canvas we have to work with.”
It could take several months, however, before construction begins on the project. The city must formalize an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation and approve a series of resolutions enacting the assessments for property owners along the road where the widening will occur.