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Tolled expressway touted as traffic solution

By Staff | Dec 5, 2009

Would you pay $5 for a fast, direct route into Cape Coral from Interstate 75?
It’s a question Lee County DOT is betting a lot of people would say yes to, by posing construction of a $400 million expressway along Colonial Boulevard from the Midpoint Bridge to just east of the interstate.
The expressway would consist of six separate “flyovers” at busy intersections, giving motorists the option of avoiding long stops at traffic lights, for a fee.
Lee County DOT manager Don DeBarry said drivers would pay tolls to use the flyover bridges at a cost of approximately 50 cents per toll. DeBarry said that five of the six flyovers would have tolls.
The largest of the flyover bridges would span Interstate 75, and would cost $125 million alone to build.
For those not wanting to use the toll roads, four lanes still would be available to use for free, two running east and two west.
For those who decide to use the flyovers, it would cost roughly $5 to drive into Cape Coral from I-75.
Construction of the project would create 3,600 jobs, according to DeBarry, and could be completed in five years if design work were to begin immediately.
He said that the estimated $400 million price tag is based on current construction costs.
“If you want to do this, this is the environment to do it in,” DeBarry said. “You could be driving on this in five years if we said go today.”
The project is aimed more so at the county’s population 20 years from now than today, according to DeBarry.
Growth estimates have the population topping out at more than a million people in two decades. DeBarry said the Metropolitan Planning Organization has been studying the potential problem for a while.
“We’ve been looking at this since 2003,” DeBarry said. “The worst intersection we have in Lee County is at Summerlin and Colonial.”
Classifying Summerlin and Colonial as Lee County’s worst intersection doesn’t sit too well with David Urich, former president and current treasurer of Responsible Growth Management Coalition, a non-profit agency that watches growth issues in Southwest Florida.
Urich said the county doesn’t need to spend $400 million on building the expressway — which would be paid through tolls and bonds — as there are cheaper, simpler solutions to easing congestion along Colonial, including opening smaller, connecting roads.
Besides that, Urich said, the county needs to look at the Daniels / Six Mile Cypress Corridor, which is much more congested, and dangerous.
The intersection of Daniels Parkway and U.S. 41 was ranked as one of the most dangerous intersections in the county.
“Why are we taking tax dollars to pay for an east/west interstate, which is what it is?” Urich asked. “I just want them to study Cypress and Daniels first.”
Joe Mazurkiewcz from the Cape Coral Council for Progress said the group wouldn’t take an official stand on the project until after first of the year.
DeBarry and members of his staff gave a presentation to the council Friday morning at its monthly meeting.
“This will free that intersection up, which makes it reasonable,” Mazurkiewcz said of the Summerlin-Colonial intersection, adding, “You always have the alternative to take the front roads for free.”