Coletta looks to form action group to pursue new I-75 interchange in Estates POLL

A 180-degree panoramic view of the northeast corner of the Everglades Boulevard overpass at I-75. This photo was taken using a panoramic program on an iPhone 4 by staff photographer Lexey Swall. It is pieced together from several photos taken in sequence.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

A 180-degree panoramic view of the northeast corner of the Everglades Boulevard overpass at I-75. This photo was taken using a panoramic program on an iPhone 4 by staff photographer Lexey Swall. It is pieced together from several photos taken in sequence.

Jim Coletta

Jim Coletta

Want to learn more about the proposed Everglades Boulevard interchange? Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the IFAS Agricultural Extension building, 14700 Immokalee Road. The meeting is open to the public. .

— Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta once again has issued a rally call to supporters of a new interchange for Interstate 75.

For the second time in recent months, Coletta, who represents the bulk of eastern Collier County as the District 5 commissioner, has scheduled a meeting to discuss a proposed I-75 interchange at Everglades Boulevard.

Coletta said he called the meeting for Thursday in order to put together a public action committee “to assist in moving forward” with the proposed interchange.

“The first meeting we held in November had about 400 people show up, and that’s not realistic to put together in a working group,” Coletta said. “(I’m hoping for) 10 to 20 committed people to get the working group I need to help bring this about. But we’ll take … anyone that wants to get involved in the process.”

The proposed project would add an I-75 interchange at Everglades Boulevard. It also would eventually create an overpass at U.S. 41 and Collier Boulevard, and at Immokalee Road and Randall Boulevard.

Proponents of the project say the interchange is needed for health, safety and welfare issues, while opponents have said the interchange – and the expansion of Everglades Boulevard that would need to occur – would have an adverse effect on the Golden Gate Estates community.

“It is desperately needed by the people in eastern Collier County,” Coletta said. “It’s such an inconvenience to these people who have to travel so far out of the way.”

Peter Gaddy, president of the Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association, said he agrees there is a need for an interchange and that the majority of people in Golden Gate Estates support the proposal. But Gaddy said there is a concern that the area “is going to be used as a series of transportation corridors to the east” if the interchange is put in place.

Creating a transportation corridor is troubling to environmental groups, especially since that part of the county is an “extremely high environmental area,” said Nancy Payton, the Southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Payton said the area has dozens of wetlands and is home to black bears and panthers. The interchange also could affect the restoration process in the Picayune Strand.

“It is sprawl-inducing,” Payton said of the project. “Golden Gate Estates is the poster child for the definition of sprawl. It’s low density, with few houses spread across a large area.”

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The I-75 Interchange/Everglades Blvd Needs You! My Thoughts Exactly by Annette Kniola

The Florida Wildlife Federation isn’t alone in its objections. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida also has expressed concerns over the project.

Payton recently said the environmental issues aren’t the only ones the county would have to overcome with the project. There’s also the question of need.

“The need isn’t justified,” she said.

“When people moved out there they knew there wasn’t an interchange and no plans (for one),’’ she said. “People should not move to a remote area, then say we want it and give it to us. If they want those services, then they should live where there are those services.”

Gaddy believes there is a need, especially since quick routes are few and far between because of the canals that cut through the community. That becomes a concern, Gaddy said, when people need to get out of the area quickly because of a brush fire or hurricane.

But while there appears to be significant support in the community for the interchange, Gaddy said he personally finds the timing odd.

“One of the things that is puzzling is all of a sudden people seem very concerned about the safety of the residents of the Estates,” he said. “No one was concerned about building an interchange until the Jackson Lab issue.”

Not true, said Coletta, who has been pushing for an interchange in Golden Gate Estates for years.

“This has been one of my top priorities now for well past 10 years,” he said.

Coletta is hoping to get support for the project from more than just Golden Gate Estates residents: He’s also looking for backing from the federal government.

Coletta was in Washington, D.C., last week to meet with federal Department of Transportation officials and legislators about the project. Coletta said he has a trip scheduled for May to follow up on this month’s discussion.

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