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Burnt Store noise mitigation sought

By Staff | Dec 18, 2015

The widening of Burnt Store Road has been in the making for years. Most residents on the northeast side of the roadway have expected this.

What they say they didn’t expect was all the noise and close-up construction happening – issues they now want addressed.

Nearly 100 neighborhood “stakeholders” have signed a petition to get some kind of relief from the noise, specifically berms, so noise and other construction-related “pollution” can be reduced.

The petition requests a barrier that is “similar to the seven-mile spread along Veterans Parkway for health, noise, safety issues and beautification of this area.

“95 percent or more of signatures originally collected to widen this road on this side, were not homeowners of this area, because of under development and will not be subject to this impact,” the petition states.

Deb Green, a resident who lives near the construction, spoke in front of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday to explain the issues. She said residents are requesting a berm and she submitted a petition from more than 100 stakeholders to the elected board.

“There’s a direct impact, noise, traffic. The original planning of this 2020 project had a berm. It’s too close up to people’s property and an infringement on their privacy,” Green said. “There’s a lot of anxiety for them.”

Green showed photos of construction equipment within feet of people’s homes, and told of a portable toilet she said was installed in someone’s backyard.

Janis Kovacs, who lives parallel to Burnt Store Road on Northwest 31st Place, is one of the residents who signed the petition. She said she understands expansion has to happen, but the noise level of the trucks makes it difficult.

“We never bought a house to be sitting along a highway. It’s an eyesore to be looking at that and the pollution. It will look nice, but it will not cut down on the noise,” Kovacs said. “I also have small children, and I see the way the cars whiz down the street. When my daughter gets on the bus, she can’t get on safely because of the work. This was not completely thought out.”

The construction equipment is heard and seen through the trees directly in front of the house and clearly seen to the right.

Sandy Kovacs, Janis’ husband, is retired. He said he doesn’t understand why those at Sandoval got visual barriers and his home will not, something he fears will lower the value of his home.

“They’re doing things to benefit the city, and that’s great. But how about doing something for the citizens? I see other cities listen to the people,” Kovacs said. “Sometimes I get the feeling in the Cape that they don’t listen.”

That may not be the case.

City Councilmember Rick Williams, whose District 6 includes the area being affected, said he supports the residents wholeheartedly in the matter. He said he hopes to bring the residents’ plight in the open at the Burnt Store widening commission meeting on Jan. 21.

“I’ve been fighting this battle the last two years. Unfortunately, the county says that they will not put in noise abatement for road improvements, only new construction. They’re being real finicky about this,” Williams said. “The first day we saw the plans we starting complaining.”

While Green insists the berms were part of the original plan, the county said since there is no noise abatement policy currently in place, plans for Burnt Store do not include noise barriers.

Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said he understands the people’s concerns. The problem is that noise barriers and berms would make the project cost prohibitive.

“Commissioners are tasked to being good stewards with your money. It’s hard to justify saddling residents with $6 million in costs for a berm, knowing all the other infrastructure needs we have,” Hamman said. “If we were to add noise abatement, that would exponentially increase the costs.”

Betsy Clayton, communications director for Lee County, said in an e-mail that the county “has no noise abatement policy. Burnt Store plans as they exist now do not include noise barriers, per county policy.”

Clayton said some people have mentioned that Burnt Store should get barriers like Veterans Parkway has. Clayton said those barriers are different.

“Those are called ‘visual buffers.’ Lee County DOT installs visual buffers as part of construction of new alignmentVeterans Parkway – when it went in – was an alignment-style construction project. Another example of visual buffers is with the Plantation extension off Colonial (in Fort Myers),” Clayton said in an e-mail.

Hamman said Veterans Parkway was a brand new road that was going through what was a residential neighborhood.

“People weren’t used to looking at a road running through their neighborhood, so the county made concessions to put up visual barriers so people weren’t affected by the road,” Hamman said.

Burnt Store Road expansion has been discussed for at least 15 years. As a narrow, two-lane road, it is considered very dangerous, especially at night and especially by those who have lived in the area for that long.

The road also is an evacuation route for people to the west in Pine Island, Matlacha and St. James City in the event of a hurricane, as Pine Island Road is the one road that leads them out of town.

The first phase of construction is expected to be completed by spring 2017, with an estimated cost of $15.3 million.

Phase 2, from Tropicana Parkway to Diplomat is set for 2016-17 with an estimated cost of $4.8 million. The final phase, from Tropicana to Pine Island Road, set for 2018-19, is expected to cost $8.7 million.

Ultimately, the road will be made into six lanes with a two-lane frontage road.

Residents had a chance to see the project at a meeting at the German-American Social Club in September. One of the complaints about the project was the lack of protection from the sounds and sights.

Hamman said at the end of the day, Burnt Store Road is going to be a nicer, safer road to travel on, and that’s what people with concerns about the noise need to remember.

“It will be a four-lane road that would reduce the chance of head-on collisions. It will be safer for pedestrians and crossovers will be underneath the bridges, and it will be more attractive,” Hamman said.