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Officials celebrate completion of Estero Boulevard project

Published March 30, 2022

The following is an article from Fort Myers Beach Observer

Nathan Mayberg | March 2022

Lee County officials, joined by Town of Fort Myers Beach councilmembers and Chris-Tel Construction, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday in front of Charley’s Boat House Grill & Wine Bar to declare the county’s seven-year Estero Boulevard reconstruction project complete.

Much credit was given to the late Lee County Commissioner and Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker for having initiated the talks that led to the roadwork. Construction started in 2015 to improve all six miles of Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach. Lee County Government officials said the work was completed faster than expected, with an initial 10-year estimate for a repaving project which also included new sidewalks, center turn lanes, trolley pull-offs and stops, bike lanes and improved drainage that was done in coordination with the Town of Fort Myers Beach water main and stormwater work.

The county’s share of the work has been estimated at $80 million. The Town of Fort Myers Beach share of its stormwater, water main and sewer line project which also extends to side streets, will cost approximately $52 million.

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said the project was the toughest road project the county dealt with in 30 years due to unexpected circumstances. “We began design work in 2014. Originally, this project was expected to take 10-12 years,” he said. “Everybody is pretty proud of this one. This project was probably the most complicated road project Lee County has done in the last 30 years.”

Desjarlais spoke about 50-feet right-of-ways with “no documentation about what was underground.”

Howard Wheeler, owner of Fort Myers-based Chris-Tel Construction, said the project faced some challenges such as piping that was found under the road in unexpected areas but still finished early and under budget – which, he said “is uncommon.” The contractors “worked through several hurricanes, worked through COVID, all those things and still finished early,” Wheeler said. “The water table here is about two feet.”

Wheeler said some of the other issues dealing with the Estero Boulevard reconstruction is that the road dates back to the 1920’s. “My family’s been building here since the 20’s,” Wheeler said. “You have roads through the 20’s, through the 50’s, through the 70’s, all that wasn’t documented.”

“It was a complete success because everybody recognized those challenges and worked as a team,” Wheeler said.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said the project “took a lot of coordination between the town’s contractors and the county’s contractors.” He said that Chris-Tel Construction did a good job and thanked “the workers who were down in those holes, digging out those pipes.” Murphy also thanked those flagging traffic during the construction “for keeping us safe.”

Town of Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Jim Atterholt said he walked a mile from his home to the ceremony at Charley’s Boat House and Grill “on sidewalks that never existed before this project.”

Atterholt said he was “ecstatic” and “thankful” to the county for the work.

One outstanding issue for Estero Boulevard is how it will be lit. The county committed $1.4 million to light 46 crosswalks along Estero Boulevard, Desjarlais said. In February, the county commissioners agreed to provide $1.4 million directly to the Town of Fort Myers Beach to allow the town to decide how it best wants to light the road. The town believes that putting amber lights along Estero Boulevard could prove more costly though it is awaiting further study from Florida Power and Light.

“The issue of lights will engender some debate for a while,” Desjarlais said. “Whether additional lights will be added after (the $1.4 million for crosswalks) is hard to say.”

Town of Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bill Veach called the road “a game changer. Now it’s a lot easier to get around the island on a bicycle or even walking.”

The town has had two fatal accidents on Estero Boulevard since December involving a car hitting a bicyclist allegedly while the motorist was under the influence and a vehicle striking a motorized scooter.

Veach said more was needed to be done to make sure bicycles were being equipped with lights.

Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak called it “a great day to see our beautiful boulevard that is now completed and working and is safe for our drivers and our bicyclists and our pedestrians.”

Liszak said the stormwater drainage aspects of the project is improving water quality. Liszak said “a good compromise” was needed to improve lighting on Estero Boulevard.