FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. Gridlock and the need for patience.
Words that express what it’s like to sit in San Carlos Boulevard traffic could also be used to describe the effort to alleviate the miles-long backups that have frustrated beachgoers for years.
A recent 18-month, $1 million Florida Department of Transportation study recommended road improvements that town leaders say they’ve already considered and rejected. And time is running short to schedule a public hearing the department wants to solicit new ideas.
“If it doesn’t take place soon, it’s not going to take place until November [or] December next year once the snowbirds come back down,” Beach Area Civic Association board member David Anderson said.
That’s because FDOT doesn’t want to exclude part-time residents from the hearing, Anderson said. Still, there’s no shortage of theories about what to do about the traffic.
“We gotta look out of the box a little bit and the concern has to be are we dealing with a people problem [or] a car problem?,” Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker said. “I believe it’s a car problem. … In season you have 25,000 cars that are trying to navigate over a road that’s max capacity is only 14,000.”
Ignoring the problem would only make it worse, Kiker believes.
“Right now it’s seasonal,” he said. “But all of our numbers are showing that it’s becoming a year-round business down here, so I think it’s going to be a problem that’s only going to expand.”
Anderson wants to see a stoplight at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge.
“You know it’s a question of getting people onto the island and off the island,” he said. “Getting onto the island, you’re going to have a bottleneck somewhere. You need to control that bottleneck.”
It’s a bottleneck that leads to issues up and down San Carlos Boulevard and as far south as Bonita Springs — and it’s not just an issue of traffic, Kiker said. Pedestrian and bicycle safety have to be taken into consideration as well, he contends.
“Also included in this is the fact that we got to look at what are we going to do with the two major bridges that provide access to the island?” Kiker said. “They’re old. They’re 50 years old. They’re going to be quite expensive and those two are going to have to have a study just like this one.”
Chuck Wiley, who’s been coming to Fort Myers Beach for 30 years, isn’t optimistic that a solution exists, given the layout of existing developments on the beach.
“I think they’re kind of stuck with what they’ve got because the buildings are too close to the road,” Wiley said. “There’s no way they can make this road any wider, so I don’t know what the solution for it is.”
Still, Kiker believes the study is worthwhile, even as it fails to yield immediate dividends.
“We have to plan for the future, and this is what you have to do to accomplish that,” he said.