| Fort Myers News-Press
Solutions to one of the most vexing daily traffic jams in Lee County, at Summerlin Road and Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers, could end talk of building another bridge over the Caloosahatchee River for the foreseeable future.
County commissioners heard a series of alternatives to alleviating the Summerlin/Colonial traffic issues that includes regular weekday afternoon traffic jams as people head home to Cape Coral over the Midpoint Bridge.
A flyover-style bridge, from Summerlin to Colonial is seen as the leading contender in a field that also includes constructing a bridge from U.S. 41 to the Midpoint, and making relatively minor changes in traffic flow.
The discussion was labeled an “alternatives analysis” for consideration when the commission pulls together its future road construction priorities.
Randy Cerchie, the county’s transportation director, explained to commissioners that building the flyover to bring traffic from Summerlin to Colonial would help fix the congestion at the intersection.
The flyover option for the Midpoint would be mean traffic headed left at the intersection, toward the bridge, would flow onto an elevated structure that would lead to the approach to the bridge.
Flyovers, basically a bridge over level ground, have been used in Lee County to relieve congestion at other four-corner intersections.
One on Summerlin Road lifts cars over its intersection with College Parkway. A flyover is also used to move traffic over McGregor Boulevard to the approach to the Cape Coral Bridge.
A flyover connecting to the Midpoint Bridge could simply move the spot of the traffic jam. Motorists would have an easier time getting through the intersection but would face more traffic as they approach the Midpoint.
“We will still have a bottleneck when they try to get on a two-lane bridge,” Cerchie said. “Without having the Midpoint widened, the congestion point is still at that traffic signal.”
Already the county is planning to replace the westbound span of the Cape Coral Bridge to the south. Design work for that project is expected to begin next year in preparation for construction in 2028.
The scenario being sketched out would mean eventually adding four new river crossing lanes, two on the Midpoint Bridge and two on the Cape Coral Bridge. It is seen as a less expensive alternative to building an entirely new bridge over the river.
A flyover would cost $12 million to design and build. That estimate does not include any land purchases or utility work that would be required.
Building the flyover while also widening the Midpoint Bridge has an estimated cost of $137 million, with the bridge work adding an estimated $125 million.
The alternative, a new bridge, from U.S. 41 to connect with the Midpoint Bridge that would run down Colonial, would cost more than twice the cost of the flyover. The cost is estimated at $285 million, with $160 million for the bridge alone. Additional costs would include any land purchases needed.
In addition to costing less, the county traffic experts say a flyover would be a better option for reducing afternoon rush hour traffic congestion at Summerlin and Colonial.
Paying for the project is seen as a combination of surplus toll revenue not needed to pay off the bonds for the Midpoint, Cape Coral and Sanibel Causeway. Toll collections have historically been higher than the payments on the bonds. The surplus proceeds have been used on a variety of traffic projects on both sides of the river.
“To build the left turn flyover seems to me the worst-case scenario for a traffic nightmare during construction,” said Commissioner Frank Mann. “Can you make me feel better or is that going to be a nightmare for sure?”
Cerchie was blunt that building a flyover and adding to bridges to reduce commuting delays will bring temporary, but no less troublesome, traffic delays.
“We can do a lot of it at night, there will be intermittent traffic delays and we will ask you to chose a different route, for the time being,” he said. “I can’t lie to you and say it’s going to be easy – it will be tough.”
Timing of the bridge and flyover projects is an issue for commissioners concerned that doing work on two bridges or nearby intersections at the same time could mean serious delays for commuters.
“We’d have to make sure there are no projects on the Caloosahatchee or the Edison,” said Commissioner Brian Hamman of the two bridges that connect from downtown Fort Myers to North Fort Myers. “We can’t work on two bridges at the same time, we would need the other corridors open if you are going to congest one with temporary construction.”
County transportation planners said another benefit to the flyover is to reduce the waiting time at the traffic lights at Colonial and Summerlin. A flyover would eliminate the need for a left turn green signal at the intersection, which would allow the lights to be programmed to allow more time for thru-traffic along Colonial Boulevard.
Part of the plans presented to the commission includes building a sidewalk across Colonial at McGregor Boulevard that would bring pedestrians to an existing traffic island which would be outfitted with traffic signals for access to opposite sides of McGregor.
Other road changes and new signage would also be possible. Cerchie indicated the county would probably change the use of the current lanes on Summerlin as it meets Colonial, creating two left turn lanes, one allowing straight or left turns and one right turn lane.
Commissioners will make a formal choice among the plans at another workshop within the next few months when they conduct their annual ranking of construction work.
Commission Chair Kevin Ruane suggested the time might be right to move on the projects, to capitalize on low bond interest rates and more surplus tolls available because bonds for the Cape Coral bridge would be paid off before most of the construction.
“It’s something we should explore as quickly as we can and have a feel for the revenue that is collected,” Ruane said. “It is a really great surplus,