Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Coconut Road: A debockle in Southwest Florida

This is the first part of an ongoing, interactive discussion and dialog regarding the issue of a potential new interchange in Lee County Florida, just South of Fort Myers and just North of Bonita Springs.

Synopsis: This controversy started when a $10,000,000 federal earmark out of Washington D.C. by Don Young, the Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the U.S. House of Representatives was focused on contructing a new interchange on Interstate 75 in Lee County Florida. At first glance, this might seem like a boon to the area, since federal dollars for transportation improvements are few and far in between, especially in the State of Florida. However, due to the complex political issues, the rumors of more federal dollars to come, coupled with the NIMBYs (Not In My BackYard), and the environmental agencies, a powder keg was being prepared to blow. This issue was so controversial, that it stayed on the MPO Board's agenda for nine (9) straight months in a row, with extensive television and newspaper coverage.

The Players - (in no particular order): 1: Lee County Commissioners, 2: NIMBYS, 3: Truely concerned citizens, 4: Lee County, 5: Florida Gulf Coast University, 6: Florida Conservancy and the Audobon Society, 7: Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), 8: Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), 9: Edison Farms property owner, 10: John Mica, Seventh Congressional District Representative, 11: Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council

The Battlefield: The Lee County MPO Board meetings

Background: A need for a potential interchange between Corkscrew Road to the North, and Bonita Beach Road to the South, was identified in the early 1980s. Numerous studies were undertaken over a period of about 20 or more years with no definate conclusion. The need for an interchange was always in the MPOs plan from the 1980s to the present day. However, it had always been on the back burner, and in the needs plan, meaning that it's not included in the cost feasible plan. With rampant growth in Lee County, now with approximately 600,000 permanent residents with 80,000 to 90,000 tourists a month and 100,000 to 200,000 "snowbirds", which means an average population during the tourist season of about 1,000,000 people per day, something has to happen to accomodate all of these people out on the roadways.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a "silver bullet", a federal earmark to ease the congestion and help things out. What is was, however, was a fly in the ointment. A throw from left field that hits the runner heading for home, taking him out, yet leaving him injured just the same. This earmark was to be the beginning of a long, twisted tail of intrigue, political battles, petty arguements, personal battles, promises of more federal monies, a transportation management center for the University, and these rumblings shook the political structure all the way to Tallahassee and beyond to Washington D.C.

.........to be continued..............

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