Marco Island is but a speck on the map of Florida, yet the area has a considerable voice in Collier County and across the state when it comes to transportation planning.
One recent case in point, says Marco City Councilman Bill Trotter, is transportation officials’ willingness to seek alternatives to Marco’s Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge design based on Marco residents’ and city officials’ concerns about losing their view of the Island area.
Trotter was selected chairman of the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Friday morning. He was nominated by Collier County Commissioner Fred Coyle. Commissioner Donna Fiala seconded the nomination and, with a 9-0 vote, Trotter replaced Collier County Commissioner Frank Halas as chairman.
“For me, it really shows the regard that the MPO holds for Marco,” Trotter said after the meeting.
The MPO is comprised of five county commissioners, two Naples council members, the mayor of Everglades City and one Marco council member. The MPO reviews the priorities in local, regional and state transportation needs.
“I’ve been heartened by the level of cooperation we’ve gotten,” said Trotter.
The majority of the federal stimulus dollars received by the MPO were allocated towards expanding the Jolley Bridge. The $27.7 million project, including management and inspection, also accounts for a large portion of the stimulus dollars allocated to the Florida Department of Transportation, particularly considering the size of the Island area, he added.
Marco also received support from the MPO in 2009 for additional bicycle paths and linear parks.
“When you realize we’re at the end of the state, sticking out in the water, it’s nice that they don’t forget about us and are welcoming us to the table. We’re certainly not being ignored. It’s a nice feeling when you consider how small we are,” Trotter said.
MPO and FDOT officials’ agreement made on Friday to at least look into resolving concerns among Marco residents that they will be losing their panoramic view from the new Jolley Bridge is another example of how well the different agencies and levels of government are working together, he said.
Marco resident Keith Dameron describes his daily trips over the current Jolley Bridge as offering an “awesome, inspiring and emotionally-pleasing 180 degree view of our Island paradise.”
He and Marco resident Keith Pershing are among several people who said they are afraid of losing this welcoming feature to the Island due to the design of the traffic and pedestrian barriers on the new span.
The existing bridge will remain two-lanes for traveling off the Island. The new bridge will also be two lanes for traveling to the Island and will be about 20 feet west of the existing bridge. Therefore, the view to the left when coming to Marco will be obstructed once the project is complete in late 2011.
“We can’t do anything about that, but it’s the view from the other side that we still have time to preserve,” Dameron said.
Due, in-part, to more stringent FDOT crash-testing and pedestrian safety standards, the concrete wall barriers on the new bridge are five to six inches taller than the barriers on the existing bridge, said FDOT spokeswoman Debbie Tower.
Additionally, the new bridge will be about 16 feet wider than the existing bridge because there will be a pedestrian walkway and wider shoulders for a breakdown lane.
Unlike the current bridge’s concrete barriers, which have some space to see through, the new bridge’s barriers are currently designed to be solid. The traffic wall barrier is designed to be 42 inches tall and made of solid concrete. The pedestrian barrier is to be a 40-inch-tall, solid concrete wall with a 22-inch-tall railing with openings above that concrete.
“It’s not about paint. It’s not about steel. It’s not about concrete. It’s about art. The canvas is Marco Island and the view is the painting,” said Dameron in a prepared statement to the MPO Friday.
After returning from the Jan. 13 pre-construction public information meeting on Marco and learning about Dameron’s, as well as several other residents’, concerns about an obstructed view from the new bridge, Tower said the importance became evident and reconsideration was then made.
FDOT’s project team and the design-build team, which is Johnson Brothers and FIGG, agreed to research alternatives, Tower announced Friday.
FDOT plans to present any alternatives and their potential change in cost and view to Marco City Manager Steve Thompson in late April.
“If cost differences occur, that is a discussion that will need to take place,” Tower said.
She added that the cost of the railings in the current design were not known and she does not know the potential price increase.
Dameron is confident it will cost more to use an alternative material because he says solid concrete is the least expensive option.
“If there is an option B, we’ll be looking at a visual presentation of the present design and what the visual perspective of the alternative would be,” Tower said.
It’s up to transportation officials to find viable alternatives and up to citizens to either decide to support it or eliminate the view, said Dameron.
“I am optimistic now because we have their ear, they listened.”