The extension of Collier Boulevard is years — make that decades — away.
But it’s still a source of controversy.
When Lee County and Collier County elected officials met Friday to prioritize road spending, it was the inclusion of the new north-south road well east of Interstate 75 in a “what’s needed” plan for 2035 that spurred the most opposition.
“We’re still of a mind that this road is not needed,” said Ellen Peterson, longtime Lee environmentalist and resident of Estero who represents the Calusa Group of the Sierra Club.
Her sentiments were echoed by Ellie Boyd, founding member of the Responsible Growth Management Coalition.
“Other roads have been done since we began talking,” she said. “I think those will serve the need.”
The Collier Boulevard extension would take the road all the way from Immokalee Road in Collier to Alico Road in Lee, a distance of about 15 miles. If bid today, the estimate is it would cost $350 million.
The Metropolitan Planning Organizations of Lee and Collier met jointly Friday and adopted a 2035 needs plan that included the road.
Planners and engineers say that when the two counties reach buildout population of more than 1.2 million, the road will be needed regardless of improvements like widening I-75 and building alternatives like Three Oaks Parkway and Ben Hill Griffin Parkway.
“If you look out over the long term there may be a need for facilities and services that don’t seem apparent based on the current economic situation,” said Dave Hutchinson, planning director for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.
Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta said it’s true the road would have to be built with sensitivity to the environment, since it runs through the largest remaining swampy wetlands in Southwest Florida, but it will be needed.
“I believe it’s important to stay on top of it,” he said. “These comments today have to be put in perspective in the real world.”
Lee County Commissioner Brian Bigelow, however, said it may be time to re-think.
“In ‘06 when I was elected there had been decisions made already about (Collier Boulevard),” he said.
Since then the county has put the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area — an 83,000-acre swath of southeast Lee — under the planning microscope. Next week growth management plan changes go to commissioners for public hearings, changes that would dramatically affect future development.
“I think it merits a reset button,” Bigelow said. “Roads can determine the fate of an area like nothing else.”