Ave Maria town developer pledges up to $80 million to widen roads

Ave Maria developers will contribute at least $75 million to $80 million to help improve roads surrounding the Catholic university and community.

The developer also is contributing tons of fill dirt that will significantly cut down on the cost of widening projects near the university, Collier County transportation officials said.

County Transportation Administrator Norman Feder said this fill dirt has become a hot commodity lately and has increased significantly in price.

"The fill will probably address (the widening on) Oil Well Road, and in the future, Camp Keais Road," Feder said.

Ave Maria University and town are east of Naples, off Immokalee Road, one of the most congested roads in Collier County. A widening of Immokalee Road already is under way.

Groundbreaking began recently on the Ave Maria development, which will have an entrance off Camp Keais Road and be home to about 11,000 residences.

"Essentially we're timed better (with road improvements) with this project than a lot of projects," said Don Scott, who heads the county's transportation planning division.

The first road project being sped up that is directly tied to the development is a widening along Oil Well Road.

Prior to the approval for the town and university of Ave Maria, county government didn't have plans to widen Oil Well Road until 2013 or after. With an agreement in place between the developer and county, the project is proposed to be completed by 2010.

The proposal calls for an 11.3-mile stretch of Oil Well Road from Immokalee Road to Camp Keais Road to be widened at a cost of $50 million.

In the county's early design plan, the existing two-lane undivided rural road will be widened to a divided four-lane road, and possibly six lanes for the portion east of Everglades Boulevard. Bike lanes and pathways are part of the plans.

Ave Maria developers hired an engineering firm to design the project.

Widening work on Camp Keais Road is slated to be constructed in three sections: Immokalee Road to Everglades Boulevard in late 2007; Everglades Boulevard to Oil Well Grade road in 2010; and another from Oil Well Grade road to Camp Keais Road in late 2007 or early 2008.

After paying for the Oil Well widening, Ave Maria's dollars will be spent on other projects to help traffic flow in the area. Those projects have yet to be identified.

Scott said this will be determined by how soon different phases of the university and town come online and which projects are in the works when this happens.

A likely first candidate, Scott said, is a widening of Camp Keais Road from Oil Well to Immokalee roads. The university will have an entrance off Camp Keais Road.

Photo with no caption

Photo by Chad Yoder, Daily News

Scott said the widening of Oil Well Road should handle the initial traffic from the university and town.

"It will handle the first influx. Will it handle everything that is out there? No," Scott said, adding that's why there are many other projects to improve the Estates road network in the county's long-range plan that could be hastened with Ave Maria dollars.

Scott said the Immokalee Road widening project now under way will help handle the additional traffic from the university.

Ave Maria's dollars also could help pay for an Interstate 75 bypass that would allow people to exit Alligator Alley at State Road 29 and loop around Immokalee, then head toward Lee County linking with a multi-laned State Road 82 east of Fort Myers.

Scott said the road impact fees paid by Ave Maria developers over the next 15 years could even exceed $80 million.

"That's a lot of money," he said.

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