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Editorial 632

Missy Layfield - Editor

Let’s Get Real on Estero Boulevard

On Monday, Town Council discussed the possibility of taking over the renovation of Estero Boulevard.On Tuesday, Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall asked the Board of County Commissioners to consider paying the Tourist Development Council $985,000 for the Seafarer’s would-be parking lot so it can be used for something else.Commissioner Larry Kiker then brought up the funding of Estero Boulevard renovation work.

More talk at the Town and County level. Which pales when compared to the amount of talk by Islanders in coffee shops and bars about traffic and the boulevard. In the back and forth cycle of Estero renovation, we seem to be on an upward swing of the pendulum right now.

Long time residents warn us not to get excited because they’ve seen it all before, several times in fact. And they’re right.

The Estero Boulevard Improvements Project, that anyone can look at on the Town’s website, is a repository of Estero Boulevard dreams. There’s the Town’s Streetscape Master Plan from 2001 and several 2008 analysis and design reports. There seems to be an abundance of information and resident input available already.Yet, the county continues to seek more design input.

Not that involving residents is bad; normally we’re fighting for more opportunities for citizen input, but it seems that Islanders have already spoken-several times-on this issue.

The introduction of the 2001 Streetscape Report says, "Walking along Estero Boulevard today is frequently unsafe, uncomfortable, and unwelcoming. Shade is limited. The corridor offers no safe walking or bicycling access to Times Square, the Civic Complex, The Quiet Center, Santini Plaza, and most area businesses.”

"Estero Boulevard has no clear sense of place, uniformity, or identity. It also lacks opportunities to support social and civic events, which are necessary to transform it into the island’s premier public space.”

That sure sounds like the Town had their finger on the problems of Estero twelve years ago. To the casual observer, the designs from that plan look identical to the plans presented at the recent meeting to gather resident input held by the County at St. Peter’s Church.

Why are Islanders being asked the same questions every 5-8 years? Easy answer-Maybe because it’s cheaper to ask questions than to actually do something about the road.

The conundrum of Estero Boulevard is that there is no solution that will totally relieve traffic congestion during season on the road. It’s just not possible. We have a two, at most three lane road to handle the vehicles of a population that multiplies five times over what it is during the off-season.

To handle that kind of traffic without the gridlock we currently experience would require at least two lanes in each direction. And that kind of space we just do not have. We can’t see it happening without the purchase and demolition of a number of commercial and residential properties to gain that kind of space.And nobody, save a few unrealistic tunnel-visioned dreamers wants what that would end up looking like on our island.Time to move on from that one.

The Right of Way (ROW) for Estero Boulevard ranges from 50-80 feet. At 50 feet of ROW, there is not enough room to have three lanes of traffic, bike lanes and sidewalks. Something’s got to give. We’d all like three lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks, but to quote Mick Jagger, "You can’t always get what you want.”

Looking at the north end of Estero, where the Town completed the road renovation, you can see what can be done with 60 feet of ROW. There are two vehicle travel lanes, bike lanes on each side of the road and a landscaped sidewalk on each side. Take 10 feet away and you have the "Core” and "Civic Center” zones ROW and not enough space to do what we really need, which is two travel lanes, a turning lane, bike lanes and sidewalks.

We’re thrilled that the renovation of Estero will provide decent sidewalks for pedestrians on both sides of the road, one of the most important improvements needed. The possibility that it won’t provide bike lanes for the whole length of Estero seems monumentally shortsighted and dangerous.

It’s time for some tough calls. And the first one of those calls needs to be the decision about whether the Town wants to try to obtain jurisdiction of Estero Boulevard. The 2001 Streetscape Master Plan listed this as one of the key implementation strategies for the plan.

Residents need to look at what that would mean. Though it’s tempting to want to wrest control out of the county’s hands and into our own, it could be a costly move. A homeowner’s Lee County taxes would not decrease just because the Town gained ownership of the road. However, were the Town to do so and proceed with improving the road, there is a very strong possibility that Town taxes would increase. Even with some state funds thrown into the mix, there’s no way the Town’s mil rate would stay at the extremely low rate it’s at right now.

Are residents ready to pay higher taxes in order to finally have Estero Blvd renovated?

Are they willing to let Lee County maintain ownership and continue dragging their feet on the road’s renovation?

Will Islanders realize that whatever plan is eventually approved and implemented, it will not magically make traffic flow easily year-round and eliminate all gridlock?

Let’s look at the Estero problem with eyes wide open and stop dreaming of the perfect road and get moving on building a better road that is safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Missy Layfield