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Road to the future: Public hears Burnt Store widening plans

By Staff | Feb 26, 2011

Leilani Farr walked away from a Thursday informational meeting on the widening of Burnt Store Road feeling confident about the forthcoming project.
The northwest Cape resident still had some concerns about possible safety issues for pedestrians but overall, she said she welcomes the growth of what is to be the city’s major thoroughfare along its western edge.
“You expect major roadways to eventually be developed,” Farr said. “They’ve been talking about this for several years … it’s going to be a good way to attract commercial development.”
Matching county and funds are driving the roughly $16.5 million project, which will four lane Burnt Store Road from Pine Island to Tropicana.
A six-lane “super street” is also in the cards for the future, but funding for that expansion is still up in the air.
The county has already designed the six-lane expansion, a move that Farr, a retired engineer, approved.
Farr added that she wasn’t concerned about any noise or potential inconvenience when construction does begin in about three years.
“We already hear Pine Island Road traffic all the time,” Farr added.
The project is in the pipeline for the Florida Department of Transportation’s 2014 – 15 fiscal year, and will take a year and a half to complete, according to Sarah Clarke, project manager for Lee County.
Clarke said the county is still looking at ways to handle safety concerns regarding pedestrian crossings over south- bound lanes, which will not have traffic lights to help people across.
Pedestrians will have underpasses along the north-bound lane bridges, but will be exposed to oncoming traffic crossing the northbound lanes.
Clarke said advanced warning signs and motion sensors are options for pedestrian safety.
“We certainly want to make it safer for pedestrians … there’s been a lot of discussions about safety issues,” Clarke said.
Northwest Neighborhood Association member Rich O’Donnell said he still had concerns about those crosswalks. While other solutions outside of signs and motion sensors exist, O’Donnell doesn’t think they’re viable because of their pricetag. O’Donnell also sits on the city’s Burnt Store Right-of-Way committee.
“There are solutions, but all the solutions have dollar signs after them,” he said.
A former police officer, O’Donnell also said he had concerns about the safety of the pedestrian underpasses, saying they provide opportunities for people to break the law outside of the watchful eye of authorities.
“Areas that aren’t accessible to law enforcement tend to be areas where people want to do things that they don’t want to be seen doing by law enforcement,” O’Donnell said. “The only way you can observe those areas is on foot or bicycle control.”
Overall, though, O’Donnell said he felt better about Thursday’s meeting than he’s had about informational meetings in the past, where he said NWNA member walked away with unanswered questions.
Early designs had Burnt Store Road lined with a series of berms like on Veterans Parkway, according to O’Donnell, but has since shifted toward a series of “commercial nodes” of development that O’Donnell said will help to block out increased noise levels.
“A couple of Best Buys should be able to do the trick,” O’Donnell said.
Cape Coral Councilmember Kevin McGrail said Burnt Store won’t be lined with strip malls because of the “commercial nodes concept”, which will feature development at major intersections.
Should Florida face another hurricane season like it faced in 2004 and 2005, McGrail said Burnt Store would serve a purpose greater than simple commercial growth.
“This is the main evacuation route for the western edge of Cape Coral and Pine Island. We needed this years ago,” McGrail said. “We need this for evacuation purposes, and we can’t do 20 year plans without it. Also, you never know when another hurricane season like a few years ago will hit.”
Like O’Donnell, McGrail said he had reservations about the pedestrian crossings on the south-bound lanes.
Should the county and state look into installing pedestrian overpasses at those locations, McGrail said he could see the project “turning into an unfunded mess in a big hurry.”
McGrail said installing a series of traffic signals, while helpful for pedestrians, defeats the purpose of a super street in the first place.
Pedestrian crossing signals ultimately changes the timing sequences of the lights, and only slows traffic down, he said.
“It gives pedestrians a full three or four minutes to get across the street, which is a safe timeframe for passage, but it takes three cycles to get the traffic signal back in sequence,” McGrail said. “If they use traffic signals along the length of it, what have we gained here?’