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Issue 581

03/29/2012 at 4:56pm
Santini Aerial ViewKiker and Durrett Get Response
From Commissioners on Estero Safety

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker and Fish-Tale Marina owner Al Durrett – accompanied by Town Manager Terry Stewart - gave a presentation at the Board of Lee Commissioner's weekly meeting on Tuesday morning, citing the two recent deaths on Estero Boulevard and asking the Board to implement a program to ensure the safety of pedestrians on the island.

The Commissioners began the meeting by reading a proclamation marking May 13th 2012 as Lee County's 125th anniversary (the county was carved from Monroe County on May 13th, 1887 and named after Robert E. Lee) and declared all of 2012 to be part of Lee's 125th birthday celebration.

Kiker and Durrett, accompanied by Town Manager Terry Stewart, then made their case for a safety program.

"The six miles of the boulevard has been averaging nearly 100 accidents per year, which is up 23% over last two years,” Kiker said. "This includes 24 accidents with people walking or on bicycles, with fatalities averaging one or two a year. Recently, a family crossed Estero Boulevard near Santini Plaza and they all made it safely except for a 67-year-old woman who was hit and killed. This is not only a traffic statistic, but something that will be an impact to that family forever. Not that long ago, a gentleman was who was a great friend to the island was hit and died after two months in the hospital.”

Kiker said that the Town has designated walking districts both on the north end by Time Sqaure and on the south end by Santini Plaza that are not safe.

"The problem occurs year-round and all up and down Estero,” he continued. "We are putting together a committee to look at some programs to help with this and we're going to need county resources – one short-term solution might be just as easy as putting a crosswalk under a light that exists already. We would like your consensus and direction to work with someone on the Town to make this happen."

Durrett spoke next, reading from a letter that he told us he sent to all five commissioners.

"I represent Fish Tale Marina and Santini Marina Plaza which has been designated as a Pedestrian Traffic Area and Walking District according to our Comprehensive Plan put in place January 1, 1999,” he said. "There are approximately 5,000 condo units in this area and that does not include hotels, motels or private homes within walking distance.”

"On Friday, March 9th, Mary Ann Hechimovich was unexpectedly killed while crossing Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach,” Durrett continued. "She was 67 years old.”

"I would like to make a request to the Board of County Commissioners to have someone work with the Town to have certain safety measures in place by October 15th, 2012. Seasonal slow speed zones are in effect for manatees in Estero Bay and lighting at night is restricted for sea turtles on the beach. We must be able to protect our pedestrians who are at risk crossing the street during our busy season.”

"I would like very much for you to help us put together a program for safety,” Durrett concluded. "We cannot afford to lose any more of our citizens or tourists.”

At least one commissioner really took Kiker and Durrett's comments to heart. On the Consent Agenda, Commissioner Brian Bigelow opposed a proposed change order to a widening of Gladiolus Drive project, saying he refused to approve any more funding for roads to be more 'automobile friendly'. The project involves the four-laning of Gladiolus from Winkler Boulevard to Pine Ridge Road.

"It says we approved this in 2007, and this change order increases amount spent by $300,000," he said. "I'm going to stand in opposition to this, and I'd like to point to Kiker and Durrett's comments as justification. This is another road project where we will throw any amount of money to keep cars on the roads, yet in the Town of Fort Myers Beach, Estero Blvd is a pedestrian death trap and they provided incredible testimony that short term fixes are not expensive.”

"If nothing else, I'm going to object to the Modus Operandi of the county which is too put any amount of money necessary to the continuation of roads used primarily by automobiles, but when people are dying on a county owned death trap, it's time we stop the bus and prioritize - I cannot sleep well when there is blood on my hands.”

The change order passed 4-1 (Bigelow dissenting).

Bigelow brought up Estero Boulevard again on an Administrative Agenda item to approve an 8-foot high buffer wall adjacent to a neighborhood in Bonita Springs, with the $90,000 cost to be split with that city.

"Here's a road project that's more predominately an automobile project, and I think this a good example to lead us,” he said. "We need to make Estero Boulevard a high priority and look to make all our roads more pedestrian friendly.”

A number of Lee County veteran's organizations – including the Fort Myers Beach chapters of both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion - showed up in support of an ordinance to restrict who is allowed to solicit funds in county right of ways. The groups said that there is a nationwide problem of folks dressing in fatigues and claiming to be veterans in order to play on the public's sympathy, which is taking donations away from actual needy vets.

The Board agreed unanimously to adopt the ordinance, which says that any veterans group soliciting contributions must be from a nationally recognized veteran's organization.

We spoke to Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah - whose District 3 represents Fort Myers Beach - and he told us that the county continues to make upgrades and improvements to Estero Boulevard in coordinance with the Town.

"We all recognize that Estero is heavily traveled and can be dangerous, that's why we're looking for long-term solutions such as widening of the sidewalks and shoulder improvements when we do the rehabilitation,” he said. "To that end, David Loveland of Lee County Department of Transportation has recommended $7 million to be spent in fiscal year 2013/2014 for the first phase of that project (approximately the first mile south of the Matanzas Pass Bridge).”

"As far as the short-term, Loveland, as well as Steve Jansen – who is the senior traffic engineer under his department – will be contacting Town Public Works Director Cathie Lewis to discuss recommendations that the Town might have and also that County staff might implement to help the corridor become safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

On Wednesday night, Commissioner Judah also emailed the above information to Al Durrett, who told us that he is impressed with the county's quick response.

"I am very proud of all the county commissioners for responding as quickly as they have,” he said.

Durrett told us that he would now like to see other residents on the south end get involved, too.

"I would like to see the condo associations on the From Charley's Boat House to Bay Beach Lane on the south end of the island – including Santini Marina Plaza, above – is considered a walking district. Some of the crosswalks in this area do not have streetlights.

south end of the island to send their own letters to the Town so that the Town could show the commissioners that the safety of pedestrians is something that concerns a lot more than one or two people,” he said. "Hopefully this would help push the county into implementing short-term solutions before the beginning of next season.

"I feel responsible towards this neighborhood – and by that I mean between Bay Beach Lane and Charley's Boat House - because this is a designated walking district,” Durrett continued. "There are so many people here from December through Easter, and I feel a need to protect those citizens because they are all out walking to sunset, walking to dinner, walking to the movies, etc.”

Durrett said that simple things like more lighting would make all the difference in the world to the safety of those citizens.

"The lights during season need to be ten times brighter than they are now,” he said. "It wouldn't interfere with turtle season because we could turn them back down after the time changes and it doesn't get dark until 9:30. I'd also like to see – during that same time frame – a decrease in the speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour.”

"If every condo association president would write a letter asking for these things – a few signs to advertise the speed limit change and a lot more lights – than we might be able to get this accomplished before October 15th so next season would be a whole lot safer.”

The next meeting of the Board of Lee County Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, April 2nd, at the Old Lee County Courthouse in downtown Ft. Myers. For an agenda or full transcript of the above meeting, visit www.leegov.org.

Keri Hendry