The following is a article from the News-Press:
Wigdor, Andrew | Sep. 17, 2019
The second segment of Lee County’s Estero Boulevard improvement project is nearing completion, giving travelers and pedestrians access to new bike lanes and other amenities.
On the popular Fort Myers Beach roadway, construction and paving for Segment 2’s upgrades are now finished. However, Kaye Molnar, the project’s public information officer, said signage and permanent lane markings still need to be finalized.
“It’s more of the icing on the cake,” Molnar said.
The improvement project, dubbed “reFRESH Estero Boulevard,” is split into six segments along Estero Boulevard’s six-mile stretch. Construction on Segment 1 wrapped up in March 2017 and began November 2015.
Improvements throughout the segments include center turn lanes throughout most of the corridor, sidewalks on both sides of the boulevard, trolley stops and pull-offs, bike lanes, water drainage systems and sidewalk lighting.
Segments are being completed in conjunction with the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s “reFRESH Fort Myers Beach Waterlines” project. This second project involves four phases of replacing waterlines and storm drains on side streets along the boulevard, with phase one and two already complete.
Local businesses like the destination, not the journey
Business representatives along Segment 2 of Estero Boulevard all seem to say the same about the project’s current state: The new look is nice, but it’s been a bumpy road.
Rhonda Wyatt, the owner of home rental agency 1 Island Hideaway, has eight units on Fort Myers Beach and said she couldn’t be happier with Segment 2’s result.
“They’ve widened the roads. They’ve made it much easier for traffic flow … We love the look, and they’re doing a great job for us.”
In particular, Wyatt mentioned her appreciation for Segment 2’s new trolley pull-offs, which allow trolleys and buses to stop while dropping off and picking up passengers without impeding traffic.
Despite her happiness with reFRESH, Wyatt acknowledged that construction put a strain on operations.
“Last season, it was tough because we had the roads torn up so bad, and it was difficult getting in and out of the businesses,” she said.
Wyatt stated she had renters “continuing to call into us,” asking if and when the project was completed.
Rusty May, the interim pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church on Estero Boulevard, has been pastoring at the church for a year and a half and said the improvements make the roadway “a much safer corridor.”
“I believe it is going to be a much safer route down through the island,” he said. “I like the areas where the trolleys and buses can pull up to the side of the road, allowing the traffic to safely pass them.”
However, safety may have come at a cost for the congregation. Attendees of the church have voiced that construction along the boulevard has led to decreased attendance on Sunday mornings, May said.
Chris Dawson, a customer service manager with Estero Boulevard business Red Coconut Realty Enterprises, agreed the construction yielded appealing results but is eager to see the entire project finished.
“We’re glad that Segment 2 is done so we have more room here. It’ll be nice though when we get the whole boulevard finished.”
Businesses in the area struggled with lessened mobility that came from the work along the boulevard, Dawson stated.
“Its better now because people can get in and out of our business,” he said. “Our restaurants took a big hit because people couldn’t park because the restaurants were all blocked off.”
Dawson also believes the building and pipe work in the area impacted water drainage when rain hit the beach. He said the project seemed to lead to instances of minor pooling in business parking lots throughout Segment 2’s construction.
First bike lanes ready for use
Segment 2, which runs from Lovers Lane to Strandview Avenue along the boulevard, now has 5-foot, on-road bike lanes in each direction.
The bike lanes, Molnar said, had to be eliminated in Segment 1, which runs from Crescent Street to Lovers Lane, due to limited right of ways. To accommodate bikers, construction in this segment yielded 9-foot sidewalks on both sides and 10-foot travel lanes in each direction with bike “sharrows” to indicate shared bicycle and motorist use.
“We only had a 50-foot right-of-way, and people love their turn lanes,” she said. “We were able to keep in the turn lanes. We had to eliminate the bike lanes (in Segment 1), which is why they went for the wider sidewalks so the bikes can ride on the sidewalks.”
Dan Moser, a member of Lee County community coalition BikeWalkLee, referred to the new bike lanes as “great.”
He was impressed with the way the sidewalks near the end of Segment 1 have ramps that lead riders directly onto the on-road bike lanes of Segment 2.
“I was down there, rode it and I did like that seamless transition,” he said. “If you’re riding on the (sidewalk) to the north and you decide it’s time to get back on the road, you have fewer potential conflicts with people coming out of side streets and driveways.”
Storm drainage and new sidewalks
Along with repaved north and southbound lanes that span 10 feet, pedestrians can now enjoy 6-foot sidewalks along Segment 2. The sidewalks come with a raised curb and area of green space, making walking beside the roadway a bit safer.
Additionally, the segment now has a functioning storm drainage system that sits under the center turn lane. The center lane is laid with “pervious pavers,” a surface that allows storm water to sink through the ground into the drainage system.
Water will filter through the system and shed certain pollutants picked up from the ground and vehicles. This allows the storm water going out to the bay to be “cleaner water,” Molnar said.
Molnar also said the system will help to reduce flooding throughout the area.
“The rains can be ankle-deep during a rain storm,” she said. “It’s all draining to the center-lane drainage system.”
Project still on track
Despite Hurricane Dorian’s rain slowing down paving in Segment 2, the project is still on track and is scheduled to be totally complete by the end of 2021, Molnar said.
Two lanes for travel are expected to remain open throughout the boulevard, but crews may occasionally flag traffic one lane at a time.