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MPO rejects Cape ‘flyover’

By Staff | Oct 22, 2010

Following a parade of speakers opposed to a proposed traffic “flyover” in Cape Coral, the county’s planning organization cut it from its transportation plan Friday.
The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization amended the 2035 Long Range Transportation Needs Plan to exclude the possible flyover at Veterans Parkway and Santa Barbara Boulevard, as well as other proposed flyovers on Colonial Boulevard east to Interstate 75, at its monthly meeting in the Cape.
The group, which is comprised of elected and appointed officials from unincorporated Lee County, local municipalities and other organizations, is responsible for transportation planning in the Cape, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and unincorporated Lee.
Cape Coral Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz motioned to remove flyovers from interchange improvements at the Cape intersection for a minimum of 15 years. Fort Myers Councilman Tom Leonardo seconded the motion on the condition that Chulakes-Leetz add on the Colonial flyovers, which he did.
The motion passed by a slim majority.
“It may have been good at the time,” Chulakes-Leetz said of the plan for the proposed flyover in the Cape. “But today it’s bad.”
Many of those who spoke out during the public comment segment agreed.
“The need is not there to have this flyover,” Dan Creighton, a local developer, said “Let’s quit talking about this flyover. We don’t have the money.”
He explained that the study to determine whether the flyover was needed was conducted while construction was ongoing in the area, which could have swayed the results due to the increased congestion. Creighton added that a 7-Eleven at Gladiolus Drive has seen a big drop in revenue after its flyover.
“These things kill business,” he said. “They actually bring down business.”
Cynthia Woolverton, manager of the Walgreens at Veterans and Santa Barbara, echoed that sentiment. A Cape resident, she said the store employs at least 250 people who could possibly suffer if the flyover were to be constructed.
“The flyover at Santa Barbara would destroy business,” she said. “We’re asking that you don’t destroy us and the rest of the small businesses.”
Others maintained that the prospect of a future flyover has businesses pulling out of developing in the area and is preventing potential tenants from renting commercial space. Donald Hinks, a citizen and commercial investor, said road construction is affecting tenants now, but a flyover would devastate them.
“We cannot afford another project in that area,” he said, adding that the flyover should be put off for at least three to five years. “It’s good for Fort Myers for their retail, but it’s poison for Cape Coral.”
According to Cape Mayor John Sullivan, the proposed flyover has cost the city at least three businesses that had intended to develop in that area.
“I think it should be put off for at least 20 years,” he added.
Others argued that eliminating the flyovers is eliminating options.
Cape resident Heather Mazurkiewicz said the long-range plan is based on what the county “may” need in the next 25 years. She admitted that she does not know if a flyover is needed in the Cape, but to nix the option is short-sighted.
“Don’t take that option off the table,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Don’t take a tool out of your toolbox.”
Dolores Bertolini, a Cape resident and former MPO committee member, said the focus of the organization is addressing tomorrow’s needs, not today’s. If not flyovers, then another alternative must be devised to sustain increases in traffic within the city.
“MPOs are visionaries,” she said. “You envision what you think may come in the future.”
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah noted that at-grade intersections can be expensive, while Commissioner Tammy Hall stated that she is afraid that pulling things off of the lon- range plan may kill any discussion on the topic.
“We do not have enough information yet,” she said.
Sullivan argued that the city cannot afford any potential job losses.
“Tools can come out of the toolbox and be put right back in,” he said. “We can take it off the table now and add it back in 20 years.”
Upon questioning, staff reported that flyovers could be brought back up for discussion prior to the 15-year mark that was approved under the motion.
Also Friday, the Lee County MPO also removed from the 2035 Long Range Transportation Needs Plan an extension of County Road 951 from Corkscrew Road to the Collier County line. Two board members dissented on the vote.
Three dissented on approving Friday’s amendments to the 2035 needs plan.