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Roadway expansion could impact other projects

By Staff | Dec 15, 2012

With either Kismet or Diplomat parkways being considered as the fourth major roadway to go into Cape Coral, a question may soon bubble to the surface regarding the possibility of an Interstate I-75 exchange being built just south of the Lee-Charlotte county lines.

Cape Coral is among the largest cities in the nation without a limited-access highway, much less direct Interstate access.

Discussion on that topic has been on-going for years.

The Kismet/Diplomat proposal was unveiled at the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday.

Diplomat Parkway, home to the recently opened VA healthcare Center, is considered the more likely of the two roads to become a major six-lane roadway to connect from U.S. 41 to Burnt Store Road in the northern reaches of town.

Cape Coral Councilmember Marty McClain said the need for a fourth road is urgent to unstress the other three main east-west roadways.

“I agree we need to loosen the stress on the two bridges. Another access point is welcome and the traffic will lead itself in front of the VA (clinic),” McClain said.

It would cost about $87 million to turn Kismet Parkway (which would have to be connected to Littleton Road at the North Fort Myers border) into a six-lane road.

McClain said the necessity to build a bridge at the Gator Slough, right-of-way acquisition, and the need to build a new road drives up the Kismet price tag.

“It’s easier to expand existing corridors than to create something new,” Percides Zambrano, Cape Coral’s City planner said. “Kismet and Diplomat would provide access to U.S. 41.”

It would cost $60 million to do the same for Diplomat, since much of the road already exists and doesn’t cross the slough, though it’s not a straight shot like Kismet.

“Diplomat would be considered the obvious choice to be the commercial connector road between north Del Prado and Burnt Store Road,” McClain said.

Councilman Kevin McGrail said the plan is in its infancy, with both roads in need of extensive work.

About $500,000 will be set aside in 2013 to design the project, with the cost of the road paid for by impact fees for new construction, which McGrail said can only be used for expansion of major roads, but not the road in front of your street.

Those roads are typically paid for by a 5- or 6-cent gas tax, which has slowly shriveled because people are driving more efficient cars and the reluctance to drive once gas prices approach $4 a gallon, McGrail said.

“Because of the economy, the five- and six-cent gas taxes that used to go to neighborhood roads have been used for the major roads,” McGrail said. “The impact fees have dried to a trickle.”

As far as a spur that would connect I-75 to northernmost Lee County, McGrail said that has been in a part of the city’s vision for years, going back to Joe Mazurkiewicz’s days as mayor.

“That was always on Cape Coral’s wish list. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to our realizing our commercial potential is our distance from the interstate,” McGrail said. “Every exit that says Cape Coral puts you somewhere other than Cape Coral.”

He said there have been plans to build a connector between Tucker’s Grade and Jones Loop in Punta Gorda.

The road would skirt horse farms and agriculture to the east and preserves to the west to the east and hook up at U.S. 41 and Del Prado, where the arch is located.

“Those along the horse farms are worried that their quality of life will be forever altered,” McGrail said. “They believe soon you’ll have Seven-11s lining the road. It’s not the case.”

There is another, seemingly easier alternative to put the highway just north of the Lee County line. This would give the proposed town of Babcock Ranch access to a superhighway, McGrail said.

“We’re joined at the hip with the North Del Prado extension that would go to the county line and skirt the southern edge of Charlotte County and go into Lee County to Route 31,” McGrail said.

McClain doesn’t think a superhighway is necessary, that simply connecting North Del Prado to I-75 is the answer.

“I’d like to concentrate on that. If we had that, it would open the city wide open,” McClain said. “It’s three miles between 75 and 41. It’s a great connector. It’s a significant drive from Tucker’s Grade.”

Zambrano said there have been no studies to support the feasibility of an interstate or other limited access highway.

“I just see lines on a map, no data,” Zambrano said. “An interstate is not popular around here.”