‘Flyovers’ have trouble getting off the ground
A series of flyovers eyed for Veterans Parkway have been put on hold for the moment, as county transportation officials look for other ways to keep traffic flowing along the corridor.
The flyovers were originally part of the county’s long range transportation plan, and the Santa Barbara and Veterans Parkway intersection has had a flyover planned since 1995.
But as commercial activity has grown over the years at that particular intersection, some fear the project would become a detriment to that commercial growth.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail, one of several council members who sit on the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, asked the county to explore options outside of the proposed flyovers.
“Storage companies, doctor’s offices … they can a take a flyover and deal with it. But the retail-commercial seems to suffer,” he said.
A similar project for Colonial Parkway in Fort Myers was put on hold recently by County Commissioners after the business community said construction, and ultimately the flyovers themselves, would limit access to their properties.
McGrail said that retail establishments rely not only on easy access, but the ability of shoppers to make impulse-based decisions. Flyovers would limit that possibility, he said.
“Commercial properties require people to get in and out with relative ease,” McGrail said. “Once you put in a flyover it can be confusing and add a level of discomfort and may cause people to pass on impulse buys.”
Dave Loveland, planning manager for the Lee County Department of Transportation, said that land was set aside for the project when the flyover was originally conceived in the mid 90s.
The large swath of median at the Santa Barbara/Veterans intersection was originally eyed for the flyover, but could now be used to explore other options.
Loveland said the county already contracted David Douglas Associates to begin design work on the flyovers but has since instructed the firm to look at designing other options.
During presentation to the Cape Council for Progress early Friday morning, Loveland said “at grade” options like displaced left hand turns, median u-turns, and restricted crossing at u-turns could all be options.
As it stands, no right-of-way acquisition is needed for the Santa Barbara portion of the project
Yet even if the design work on the flyovers were still ongoing, the county does not have the money to build it.
“We’re wrestling at the county level with the transit budget … there’s been a lot of debate about the future funding of the transit system,” Loveland said.
Despite the lack of funding Loveland reiterated that the flyovers have been in the county’s plans for Cape Coral for a while.
Designed as an expressway, Veterans Parkway has limited access points for commercial properties. The flyover would not change that, he said, and would only keep traffic moving at one of the city’s busier intersections.
Loveland said that tolling the flyover could be an option to pay for construction, but there are other options, too, especially if the project is ready to go.
“Even if we decide a toll not an option, by making it production ready, we can be eligible for other money that comes raining out of the sky like federal stimulus money,” Loveland added.
Whether the flyover system is still viable, or merely a leftover from some antiquated transportation system is unknown.
Dr. Joseph Grubbs, a principal planner at Architects Inc., argues that flyovers are indeed leftover from a bygone era, and the Lee County Long Range Transportation Plan needs to reflect the modern transportation needs.
Like Loveland, Grubbs spoke before the Council for Progress Friday morning.
“Do we want to continue with a 1950s and 1960s solution to our 21st Century problem?” Grubbs asked.
About Veterans Parkway he said, “It was always envisioned as a major roadway, but the question is, is that vision still up to date?”
Councilmember Marty McClain thinks the flyovers are not only still viable, but are essential to the future growth of the city.
Veterans Parkway was designed specifically for future growth, as was the county’s long-range transportation plan, he said.
“We watched the city grow by 60 percent in half a decade. We may not grow at that pace again, but we will have some growth as things begin to recover,” McClain added.
McClain doesn’t think the “commercial node” at Santa Barabara and Veterans will be affected by the flyover.
He said shoppers still will treat the intersection as they always have, because entry points will be the same.
“People need to look at what we’re faced with after the construction component is done. It clearly shows you can enter where you need to and exit where you always have,” McClain said.
The Lee County MPO is set to meet in Cape Coral on Oct 22 at 9:30 am, at city hall. For more information contact the MPO at 338-2550.