As many contractors and business owners can attest, the impacts of Hurricane Ian took a massive toll on development projects in Lee County in the last year. Those impacts coupled with the existing rise of construction costs also extend to the Lee County Department of Transportation.
The DOT has seen a $532 million increase for its Tier 1 projects due to supply-chain issues and rising costs of land, DOT Deputy Director Rob Price said Wednesday at a Real Estate Investment Society luncheon.
“Acquisition is a major expense for us. Also, just the sheer cost of construction everybody’s seen,” Price said.
The increase by millions of dollars impacted the DOT’s capital improvement projects, which may affect project timing.
There are three different project ranking tiers, with the primary ranking factor being roadway safety. Other ranking criteria include system preservation and continuity, asset maintenance, service level deficiencies, multimodal benefits and return on investment.
There are 13 Tier 1 projects the DOT expects to deliver within the next 10 years. However, due to the price increase, the Ortiz Avenue widening from Colonial Boulevard to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has been unfunded and fell out of the DOT five-year funding projects.
Price noted the Lehigh Acres Paving Program is progressing. “I’m sure a lot of our real estate folks out here buy lots, build new houses out in Lehigh Acres, [there’s lots] of dirt roads or really poorly conditioned roadways,” he said. “We have constant communication with our real estate folks, and people who are building houses out there make sure that we’re paving those roads.”
The department waits until a couple houses are built on roads in Lehigh before them, as construction traffic tends to rip them up again.
Tier 2 projects are expected to be completed in the next 10 to 20 years. Of those projects, Corkscrew Road widening is the priority in its respective tier. However, Price said it may move up into Tier 1, depending on the direction from the Board of County Commissioners.
Another project that may move up is Burnt Store Road widening, which is receiving a lot of interest from the state in terms of grant funding opportunities. “That project has potential to have a much higher ranking next year as we move forward through the project development environmental process,” Price said.
Tier 3 projects are more long range, expected to take more than 20 years.
All tier projects total $2.6 billion. “It’s a pretty hefty [Continuous Improvement Project],” Price said. “Our funding comes from gas taxes, growth increment financing, which is a tool that our commissioners started a handful of years ago to help us keep up with the pace of development, and toll revenue is also a very important funding resource for us.”
Some big-ticket projects include the Alico Road Connector and Three Oaks Parkway Extension.
A $230 million project, the Alico Road Connector will be a brand-new road that will add new capacity and give an outlet to Lehigh Acres that it doesn’t currently have. Phase one will start about this time next year, with construction on phases two and three to begin sometime in 2025 or 2026.
“It’s going to include a four-lane cross section that’s expandable into six lanes,” Price said. “In the future, there will also be 12-foot shared use paths on both sides of the roadway, so we’re going to be promoting multimodal improvements out there.”
The connector will also be a critical reliever for Daniels Parkway, Price said, and will provide a third and brand-new connection to Lehigh Acres and Interstate 75.
The Three Oaks Parkway Extension is a $155 million project in which phase one has already started, with construction of phase two and three expected to start next summer.
Hurricane Ian not only affected capital improvement projects, but also created a significant amount of damage to the county’s signal systems and bridges.
There was damage sustained at 90% of the 447 countywide signals and 42 signal cabinets sustained saltwater intrusion, totaling $8 million worth of damage to the county’s signal system.
Out of the 256 signals, 103 signals sustained damage more than $5,000, which makes repairs eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration.
“There’s an extensive process that we have to go through,” Price said. “We’re taking the contract to the board for permanent repairs next Tuesday, almost a year later. That’s how much of a struggle it’s been.”
In addition to signal damage, there was damage to 11 county-owned bridges. Due to damage, Price said there will be a lot less bridges seen with a weakened approach slab and will now be reinforced with steel sheet pile.
Other resiliency components that will be incorporated for protection of county bridges will be gabion baskets and box culverts with rip rap.