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Estero Boulevard Improvement Project slated to begin after Easter

By Staff | Jan 13, 2015

After tourism season this year, Fort Myers Beach residents, businesses and visitors can expect various roadway access interruptions for several years to come.

Enter the Estero Boulevard Improve-ments Project, a long-planned restoration process that will cause headaches, heartache, anger and concern before finally relief and excitement during its construction phases that will begin shortly after Easter with first segment work from Crescent Street south to near Lovers Lane.

The year-round project will replace or relocate underground utilities, build a new roadway and provide bicycle and pedestrian facilities along five miles of the boulevard.

The first segment’s 50-foot limited right-of-way has been planned to include 10-foot travel lanes in each direction and marked with bicycle “sharrows” for shared use by bicyclists and motorists, an 11-foot center turn lane and 9-foot wide sidewalks on both sides of the road along with drainage improvements. This is the first of six planned segments.

Kaye Molnar of Cella Molnar & Associates Inc., the public information officer, addressed the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce business family at Charley’s Boat House Grill Thursday to relay the facts and deliver the news that the biggest component to the project will be communication. She announced that the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, after dealing with a protest, recently approved Chris-Tel Construction as the project’s construction management at risk.

“We realize that construction is painful and never a good time,” she said. “We will have on-site meetings with property owners. If you have encroachments in that right-of-way, you need to get them out of there. That first section will be like stuffing 50 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound sack.”

Go to www.reFRESHFMBeach.com to learn more. A public pre-construction meeting will be held in the near future.

“If you are in that first segment between Crescent Street and just this side of Red Coconut RV Park, you probably want to get on that website and sign up for emails,” said Molnar, whose team can be reached at kmolnar@cella.cc or 337-1071 or 1-877-496-1076. “My job is to troubleshoot issues. I am the direct contact between the town, county and the contractor.”

The first mile is being planned as an 18-month project, but may take less time or more time depending on unseen issues. The follow-up segments should be constructed on a continuous basis.

“The goal of the county is to start the first section and acquire money to design and start the next section, but (the project) will continue to go,” said Molnar. “The first segment is a very hard section to do it in. The contractor has a big task of keeping traffic going in both directions. We will be really jammed in there.”

Project work will not stop for tourism season.

“There will be construction during season,” Molnar said. “There is no way to avoid it. But we are going to try to make that as least impact as possible.”

Funding for the first section’s design and construction has been reported to be more than $7 million and $50 million is being budgeted for the entire project. It has been reported that funding will come every other year.

Molnar stated that one can expect water shutoffs and boil water notices but, due to old water lines on the island, there will be times when that is not possible. If water is shut off without notice, call Molnar.

“For the most part, we will tell you as best we can usually within 48 hours that there will be a water shutoff for water shutoffs that we plan,” she said.

Boulevard improvements will also include trolley stops, connection to town drainage projects as well as the relocation of existing utilities including FPL power poles, telephone and cable lines, sewer force mains and water lines. Plans also include accommodating a natural gas line for the entire length and both sides of the boulevard.

Emergency services will be notified where construction work is being done.

ROW problems have been few so far, says Molnar. There have not been any formal protests or lawsuits related to the county property that is being taken back.

Questions touched on possible structural damage (construction manager is responsible), maintaining roadway access (for most part, at least one lane of traffic with flagger assistance), signage (relaxed sign ordinance laws in construction area may apply), business closure (every effort will be made to keep businesses open), sidewalk/driveway curb issues (drop curbs will be in place where applicable) and business downtime (officials are going to do their best to keep people coming back; marketing angles proposed).

The Estero Boulevard Improvements Project will involve concepts presented in the Town of Fort Myers Beach Streetscape Master Plan that was completed in 2000, information gathered during the 2008 Estero Boulevard Analysis and Design, a right-of-way study and results from public workshops. The Town Streetscape Master Plan includes six segments: the completed North End, Core Area, Civic Complex, Quiet Center, High Rise Resort and South End.

The road project is not designed to alleviate traffic volume or reroute motorists to rid the traffic congestion problem that has been a longtime scar on Fort Myers Beach during high-capacity tourism months.

“This project is to improve the safety for all users,” said Molnar. “We’re trying to get people out of their cars to use a trolley, bike and pedestrian walkways. The other part of it is to improve the drainage.”