A variety of short- and long-range transportation plans and projects to improve mobility in Lee County are underway. Don Scott, executive director of Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization, is responsible for managing and overseeing the projects, utilizing his 32 years of transportation planning experience in the public and private sectors.
Scott presented “The Future of Transportation in Lee County” at Tuesday’s Real Estate Investment Society luncheon, focusing on major roadway projects, with some being planned five to 10 years out.
“There are not enough alternatives for connected roads, so if you spread that traffic out, the more that you connect some of those things, the better,” Scott said. “It’s the difference between somebody having to go 12 miles around versus 4 miles now because you made a connection in there.”
Local traffic statistics show an increase in demand for the county’s roadways, with the current Interstate 75 daily continuous count data indicating a 6% to 8% increase in traffic over historical counts. In Lee County, 78% of commuters drive alone, with the average commute time being 27 minutes, about a minute less than the state average.
“That kind of shows how far we’re commuting, maybe to another county to go to work, too,” Scott said.
Travel distances decrease and route options increase with street network connectivity, resulting in more direct travel distances and a more accessible system. As the population is expected to increase, along with seeing an increase in airline passengers, major roadway projects are set to move forward.
Five major roadway projects are under construction, with the conversion of First and Second streets in downtown Fort Myers into a two-way roadway being the first to be completed this summer.
The biggest project expected to be completed next is the Burnt Store Road project, connecting State Road 82 to Tropicana, with completion set for late fall of this year.
Other projects include U.S. 41 from Winkler to State Road 82 and Corkscrew Road from Bell Hill Griffin Boulevard to Bella Terra, with both expected to be completed in 2023. These projects, like I-75 and Colonial Boulevard, have faced challenges with utilities, impacting the expected completion dates. The I-75 and Colonial project faced an eight-month delay because of utilities, and is now expected to be completed by mid 2024.
Some major roadway projects coming up within the next five years include the I-75 and Daniels Parkway interchange improvements and the Three Oaks Extension from north of Alico Road to Daniels Parkway.
Within the next five to 10 years, community members also can expect to see the Cape Coral Bridge project and the Alico Road connector from Alico to State Road 82.
Aside from roadway projects, LeeTran also has projects expected to address transportation issues, including two new transfer locations. A new south transfer across from Bell Tower shops in south Fort Myers is expected to be completed in mid 2023, with a new Lehigh Acres transfer center beginning in January 2023 and expected to be completed in February 2024.
With inflation and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these projects have faced challenges with cost increases and labor and material shortages. Lee County’s increase in population and vehicle miles traveled leads to increased congestion, particularly at major intersections where it is harder to find acceptable solutions, Scott said.
The county also has seen an increase in freight traffic from overall growth in online ordering and increased fatalities and serious injuries in vehicle accidents. Regional transportation also is seen to impact affordable housing, addressed by regional roadway projects in the next five years, with improvements in accessibility between Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties.
The roadway projects are expected to help commuters and increase accessibility to services for all community members, Scott said.
“The projects will help people who commute mostly,” he said. “It’s a better way to be able to get to services quicker, reduce trip lengths and open up opportunities for changing jobs.”