Businesses along Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers say the proposed elevated expressway is an unnecessary extravagance that could potentially damage their financial future.
Pamela Templeton, co-owner of Fort Myers Toyota, hosted a number of business owners from along the Colonial corridor at her dealership last week to discuss the issues associated with the expressway. Templeton said the bottom line is the expressway will do more long- term damage to her dealership than it will help projected traffic congestion on Colonial.
"I can not contemplate a project of this magnitude at a time like this," Templeton said. "There's no positive I've seen from this thing."
The expressway, as proposed, is a series of "flyovers" that would span Colonial Boulevard's major intersections.
The flyovers would be tolled, with early estimates somewhere in the $3 - $4 range to drive from Cape Coral to I-75, or vice versa.
The largest of the proposed flyovers is nearly a mile in length, that would carry drivers over I-75 and into Lehigh Acres. A series of "service roads" would parallel the fly overs for people who did not want to pay the toll.
Templeton thinks the service roads would see the majority of traffic simply because people would not want to pay the toll, clogging all the arteries in and out of her dealership. She also thinks the data being used to support the project is outdated, and based on the Southwest Florida's boom years, which have since fizzled.
"I think the data this proposal was based on was from a long time ago in an economy far, far away," she said. "If people choose not to pay tolls and take side roads ... what have they accomplished?"
Cape Coral Council member Kevin McGrail, who sits on the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the expressway will address the gridlock that is surely in Lee County's future. He said he's certain that people in the Cape would use the flyovers, not being turned off by the tolls for the shot at saving some time. He added that the MPO has already reduced the project's scope from a full-on expressway to the flyovers.
If the project, as it now stands, is not pursued, something will need to be done to address forthcoming growth.
"We're going to face gridlock in 10 to 15 years," he said. "If this gets shot down we've got to come up with another solution. We can't just do nothing." David Urich, who formerly sat on the Responsible Growth Management Coalition, thinks the easy solution to congestion on Colonial Boulevard is to install a High Occupancy Vehicle lane, which also could be used by a rapid bus transit system.
"You wouldn't have to do anything but decide which lane you're going to mark, speed up the light in that lane, and you're not shutting off the turns (lanes) or putting up road blocks or building a 40-foot super structure," Urich said, referring to the flyovers.
Templeton and other business owners along Colonial plan on being present at the May 14 MPO meeting in Fort Myers. She said that she believes the project has not been properly vetted, and there are questions that have yet to be answered. The most important question that has yet to be asked, she said, was, "If this is going to hurt your business corridor, what's the point?"
Don DeBerry, from Lee County Department of Transportation, could not be reached for comment. The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization meets Friday, May 14, 1:30 p.m., 1926 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers.