First of a three-day series
The 30 miles of newly widened Interstate 75 in Lee and Collier counties has been carrying traffic since Dec. 23. It’s been an uneventful 45 days.
“Anecdotally I can tell you there hasn’t been anything significant,” Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Chris Miller said. “I can tell you if there’s been anything, it’s few and far between.”
Chris Barthon drives I-75 to Naples a couple of times a week.
“Man, compared to a couple years ago, it’s gravy,” the Lehigh Acres resident said. “Used to be you could almost count on something somewhere mucking things up. Anything that happened tied things up forever.”
That’s true, said John Rinkenbaugh, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation iROX I-75 expansion project that opened the new third lanes northbound and southbound just before the end of 2009.
Most information is anecdotal, he said, but the project engineers and road rangers roaming the interstate have seen little but free-flowing traffic.
“We haven’t had any of those ‘Oh my Gods,’ ” Rinkenbaugh said. “The cable barrier is all intact, and from the crews on the road I’ve heard nothing.”
The cable barrier running down the median contains sensors to let human monitors at the new Intelligent Transportation Center know when it’s hit. So far it hasn’t been.
“We have had a few incidents,” said Carlos Bonilla, who manages the new $35 million center at the Daniels Parkway rest stop in Lee County. “They’ve been minor.”
Rinkenbaugh worked in local television before going to work for iROX. He recalled being at the station waiting almost daily for word that the interstate was closed.
“We haven’t had any of that,” he said.
Actually the highway was closed southbound for about an hour Dec. 28. Someone fleeing sheriff’s deputies rolled his vehicle near the Alico Road interchange.
“Kind of hard to do anything about that,” Rinkenbaugh said.
The project included work on eight interchanges. All are finished except for Immokalee Road, a project Collier County officials expanded after iROX started.
The interchanges at Colonial Boulevard, Daniels Parkway, Alico Road, Corkscrew Road, Bonita Beach Road and Pine Ridge Road are all finished.
“There is a patch going on at Daniels where the inspector didn’t like the asphalt and it’s being replaced,” Rinkenbaugh said. “It’s simple, not a big thing.”
There also is future work slated for the Bonita Beach Road interchange. The state will spend another $3.4 million to add left-turn lanes to Bonita Beach Road, making two turn lanes onto the interstate both ways.
In fact the project — the contract for it was awarded in October 2007 and work began shortly thereafter — wrapped up a year earlier than expected, reaping the contractor a $15 million windfall.
The $430.5 million project was a design-build-finance deal, the first of its kind in Florida and the biggest road project in state history. It includes 24 new bridges, 23 stormwater treatment ponds and six noise walls.
The project also took 2 million cubic yards of dirt, 1.75 million square yards of sod, 400,000 tons of asphalt, 8,000 cubic yards of concrete and 375 total miles of pavement marking.
Debbie Tower, information manager for the state transportation department in Southwest Florida, said there are plans to widen parts of the interstate farther north to Fort Myers.
“We’ve got a stimulus project north from Colonial (Boulevard) to State Road 82,” she said.
Design work for that $8 million project has begun. Construction of about 1.5 miles of fifth and sixth lanes should begin this fall, Tower said, with completion slated for late 2011.
Stimulus money also will push the six-laning north to Luckett Road. The contract for that project, adding two lanes to two miles of road, has yet to be awarded. Stimulus work must be completed by March 2012.
North of Luckett Road to State Road 80, a distance of not quite two miles, the six-laning is in DOT’s regular work program.
Construction is funded during 2010-11 at $26 million.
The S.R. 80 interchange also is to be completely rebuilt during that same time, a $58 million job.