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Cape transportation committee discusses bridge options

By Staff | Feb 20, 2020

As Lee County edges toward the design of a new west-side span for the Cape Coral Bridge, a city advocate for pedestrians and cyclists has what she thinks is a better idea.

Instead of a routine replacement, the city and county need to think bigger and create something that could be a signature structure for the region, Carolyn Conant told the city’s Transportation Advisory Commission Wednesday.

The westbound span of the bridge that connects College Parkway in Fort Myers to Cape Coral Parkway in the city is the structure’s original two-lane span. It is not scheduled to be replaced until 2028 but the design phase is set to begin next year.

In the meantime, the two-span bridge has become a major bottleneck between the cities as the three traffic lanes on each side merge into two lanes across the bridge.

Conant, a representative of the Cape Coral Bike-Ped group, said by making one or both existing spans into a bike-ped linear park, a new, architecturally exciting span could become a major tourist draw, eliminate demolition costs and add a park for both cities to enjoy.

As for the new bridge, it could be another drawing card as a signature bridge would have a better design, even enhanced lighting and sound, though it would cost more initially.

Replacement of just the one span is estimated to be around $108 million.

Cape Coral City Council and TAC member Rick Williams loved the idea, but was concerned about the cost.

Mayor Joe Coviello also raised some concerns.

“Traffic is our biggest problem. Having all the amenities is great, but that’s what they are, amenities,” Coviello said. “As we go along and reach buildout, it will only get worse.”

Williams suggested that raising the toll from $2 to $3 could help fund a new bridge and said he would happily pay it if it meant a better span.

Another suggestion was to make the Midpoint and Cape Coral bridges separate entities. Currently the bridges are grouped together in the toll agreement between the city and county. TAC members also said they would like to see the bridge built before 2028.

Design work on the new span is scheduled to begin some time in 2021.

Conant said she liked how things went and maintains this isn’t a “pie in the sky” idea.

“I think money is an important consideration, but that includes not only the initial cost but the economic benefit and quality of life issues,” Conant said. “I’m recommending a feasibility study and looked at the magnitude of dollars of what this will come to. When you do things piecemeal, it will look piecemeal.”

Coviello said the presentation by Conant was fantastic, but the main issue is traffic congestion.

“We know the replacement plan is set for 2028 and my goal is to look at things sooner to see if we need an additional bridge going across, how we can improve capacity and where does the funding come from,” Coviello said. “There are a lot of entities involved and we have to look at them all.”

There were many residents who attended the TAC meeting, drawn mostly by the discussion about the bridge. They had the same questions but agreed a new bridge is needed — and quickly.

“We have to look at the choke points right now. If we wait it will get worse. We already have a heck of a time getting out of here in the morning,” said Don Haking. “They’re on both sides, so Lee County and the city have to go after this together.”

“This bridge would be the showcase for the county. We need to step up. I think an attractive bridge would be nice,” said Randy Landers. “If we’re going to grow out to 400,000, we need to do something.”