Mike Torres, 16
“There’s tons of congestion in a small space. There is so much going on that it’s difficult to understand what you are doing.”
Stephanie Caro, 16
“When one approaches the ramp, there is a load of construction present, slowing traffic down. When these intersections are thrown into one’s path, with short spacing in between, it leads to some major braking. Not only is it inconvenient to have to constantly ‘ride the brake’ but it is also quite agitating.”
Cassandra Gehring, 17
“This concoction of impatience, aggressiveness, and congestion is the perfect recipe for disaster which make the intersection of Juliet Boulevard and Immokalee Road by far the worst intersection in the city of Naples.”
1655 Victory Lane, Naples, FL
Immokalee Road interchange
NAPLES — Mike Torres described the work on the Immokalee Road interchange as confusing.
Stephanie Caro said it was inconvenient and agitating to drive on.
Hollis Lavarre didn’t like how slowly the traffic moved there.
Those are some of the views of Palmetto Ridge High School teen drivers, who responded to a spring Daily News request for readers’ thoughts by describing the Immokalee Road interchange at Interstate 75 as one of the worst intersections in Collier County.
When driver education teacher Debra Ogden saw the Daily News’ request for readers to share their thoughts about bad intersections in Southwest Florida, she saw it as an opportunity to have her students write essays.
All together, 41 of the 98 new teen drivers responded that the worst intersection was the Immokalee Road interchange at I-75. They wrote their essays before the additional lanes on Immokalee Road were opened to traffic at the interchange.
“It’s scary,” Stephanie, 16, who has been driving for seven months, said.
With the lanes open, there still is minor work to finish. Yet the final end is in sight.
Crews are paving at night through next week with the possibility of occasional lane closures.
John Rinkenbaugh, spokesman of the I-75 widening project known as iROX, said the best estimated date for final completion is the middle of June.
When all of the work is done at Immokalee Road, there will be 12 lanes of traffic. The project also includes dual left turn lanes in each direction, officials said.
Minor traffic signal work is expected to be finished this month.
After the asphalt cures, Rinkenbaugh said, the last layer of asphalt called friction course will be put on the road. Once the asphalt cures, the final white striping will be put on the road. There still are minor repairs deemed necessary by inspectors, he added.
Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) officials reported a few months ago that the interchange would be completed this month. However, officials said anytime DOT gives a completion date it is, at best, an estimate also based on weather.
The project now stands several months ahead of schedule.
Temporary overhead traffic signals from the Immokalee Road interchange at I-75 were removed in late April, opening all lanes of traffic.
“It’s a lot better now,” Amanda Paquette, 17, said this week.
Although it’s better, Amanda, a Palmetto Ridge High junior, said it’s still not the best. She wants the final stages of construction on the interchange to include smoothing the road.
During the peak of construction, Stephanie, a Palmetto Ridge High sophomore, said her mother called the interchange the “danger zone” and allowed her to drive there on her permit only a week before she got her license.
Among the students who responded to the Daily News request, Mike said the lane closures changing almost daily on the congested road during construction added to the confusion of drivers.
The Palmetto Ridge High sophomore drives to work daily on Immokalee and Airport-Pulling roads during rush hour traffic.
Once the project is complete, Mike hopes for clearer markings on the road, traffic light coordination and a reduction in commuting time.
Before, to avoid the traffic jam heading east on Immokalee Road during the construction, Mike did what many motorists did _ take Livingston Road to Vanderbilt Beach Road to avoid the jam and to get home off of Immokalee Road.
Echoing the complaint of many Collier County motorists, the students said it’s taken too long to finish the road.
“I cannot wait until it’s done,” said Amanda, who has had her license for a year.
The students also agreed that there are an excessive number of traffic lights near the Immokalee Road interchange at I-75.
Other students, including Cassandra Gehring, 17, voiced her frustration about the intersection at Immokalee Road and Juliet Boulevard. At that intersection, many motorists sit helplessly and wait for the traffic to flow during peak hours.
Cassandra wrote in her essay that the intersection is completely blocked by “impatient drivers.”
Once the construction is completed, she said it will be a safe road to drive.
Palmetto Ridge High junior Hollis Lavarre echoed Cassandra about the traffic jam slowing traffic near the Walmart Supercenter.
Hollis, who has a driver’s permit, said driving on Immokalee Road near the Walmart Supercenter makes her nervous.
The 17-year-old Palmetto Ridge High junior hopes that the traffic jam will improve once the road is completed.
Hollis also wrote in her essay that she supports red light cameras at the intersection.
Teachers, Ogden wrote in an e-mail, are always looking for ways to add rigor and relevance to instruction.
And Ogden saw an opportunity for students to apply what they are learning by responding to the Daily News request for reader contributions. In addition to practical application for driving, the essay assignment reinforced writing-communication skills and provided the students with a way to become involved in their community.
“As novice drivers, students need to be engaged in the learning process and out behind the wheel, practicing as much as possible,” Ogden wrote in an e-mail. “The No. 1 killer of our teens is automobile crashes … it is our responsibility to prepare our students as safe, skilled and knowledgeable drivers, so we can change this statistic.”
The project’s contractors — Anderson Columbia Company Inc. and Ajax Paving Industries — could earn up to a $15 million bonus for finishing construction ahead of the contracted completion date once the project is accepted by the DOT.
Based on the current schedule of construction, Rinkenbaugh said the contractors could earn the bonus.
The contract incentive applies only to the main road and ramps, he said. The incentive completion date is July 27.
When Collier County asked for additional work to the Immokalee Road interchange area, Rinkenbaugh said, the completion incentive wasn’t applied to that additional portion of the project.