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Residents question proposed Del Prado/I-75 interchange

By Staff | Feb 6, 2010

Lark Campisano is getting together with dozens of her North Fort Myers neighbors Monday to rally against a proposed interchange that would one day connect Del Prado Boulevard in Cape Coral to Interstate 75.
The western section of that interchange would not only cut across a piece of Prairie Pines Preserve — county protected Conservation 20/20 land — but come up right against Campisano’s property, literally putting the interstate in her backyard.
Having chosen the area for its rural qualities eight years ago, Campisano said she’s not certain she’ll stay if, and when, construction begins.
“I don’t know if I could stand to stay here,” she said. “If we have a major road back there, with all the pollution and the noise, I wouldn’t want to live here.”
The proposed Del Prado interchange is on the county’s 2030 transportation vision plan.
It was approved by county commissioners five years ago, but right now has no start date, and no funding.
The interchange is estimated to cost $81 million, but no one on the local level has any idea where that money will come from.
County Commission Chair-woman Tammy Hall said the project is not in the design nor permit phases, and is not in the capital improvement project budget for at least the next five years.
Hall, and all of the BOCC, has come under fire by Campisano, who’s said her pleas to move the interchange have fallen on deaf ears in commission chambers.
Campisano said she feels commissioners weren’t entirely forthcoming when they purchased Prairie Pines, as part of the deal included giving the Department of Transportation the option to build a road or interchange on the land.
Hall refuted those sentiments, saying that the interchange process has been a very public one.
“There was quite an extensive public comment period,” Hall said. “You have to go through a very public process on projects like these … I think there’s a lot of bad information out there.”
Citizen activist David Urich, a former member of Responsible Growth Management Coalition Inc., doesn’t oppose the interchange, only its location.
He said the interchange would be better served moved three miles to the north, near the Charlotte and Lee county lines.
The current location of the proposed interchange would put it in the southeastern tip of the preserve, while Urich’s plan would push the interchange to the northern tip.
He thinks it’s now time to re-examine the project, as growth has slowed and he’s not certain if people understand what’s being proposed is a tolled road.
“I don’t think it’s being thought back over,” Urich said. “And I don’t think anyone realizes in the Cape that it would be a toll road.”
Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Don Scott said the proposed interchange would be a toll road, but said he did not know what the cost of the toll would be.
He said the interchange is not a “defined project” at this point, saying that its moving in somewhat of the opposite direction at this point.
He said he’s open to comments of people like Campisano and her neighbors, but wants them to know the project is still far from breaking ground.
“If you had the money, you’re talking 10 or 12 years to get it built, and we don’t have the money,” he said.
Scott and the rest of the MPO plan on having a joint meeting with the Charlotte County MPO in March to look at the project.
He also said that the eventual development of Babcock Ranch could move the interchange further north — close to what Urich has suggested — in order to serve that community.
Hall also said the project could ultimately fizzle out, that the “Del Prado alignment,” as its known, might one day prove un-needed.
Hall cited the Alico Road alignment as an example, as it was one day supposed to connect to Summerlin.
She added that it would be irresponsible of the county not to plan, and, at the very least, funding has to be found before anything can be done.
“It’s really, really way out there in the future,” she said.
Campisano feels like time is running out, though.
Monday’s 7 p.m. meeting at Slater Bible Chapel seems like a last stand for Campisano and the roughly 77 homes that comprise her neighborhood.
She’s hoping that a unified stand will ultimately make the difference.
Over the years she’s tried to raise awareness for not only the project but Prairie Pines Preserve by hosting trail rides and barbecues, trying to introduce people to the tranquility and natural beauty of the preserve while bringing attention to her plight.
She doesn’t understand why the county would still pursue the project when there are other options, saying that reaching out to Hall has done nothing.
Hall said she’s never received any communications from Campisano, nor was invited to speak at the Monday meeting.
Campisano also doesn’t understand why the interchange is even needed, while both the Tucker’s Grade and Bayshore Road exits seem to be serving the Cape and North Fort Myers just fine.
She also worries the interchange will ultimately change everything about the rural qualities of North Fort Myers, bringing widespread development and chaos to the area.
“With a conservation area behind you, you think it’s never going to be developed,” she said. “Its ideal … its just scenic, very country. You can hear 75 from the house now, but if they put it behind us, the pollution and noise will ruin our way of life.”