Editor’s note: The originally posted story incorrectly indicated there was a tie between a proposed Interstate 75 interchange at Everglades Boulevard and overpasses at U.S. 41-Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road-Randall Boulevard. The story has been modified below.
GOLDEN GATE ESTATES _ A push for a new Interstate 75 interchange in Golden Gate Estates has received key endorsements from emergency response agencies.
The support comes on the heels of a grassroots campaign started by Collier Commissioner Jim Coletta and his team a few months ago to garner endorsements from local groups for acceleration of the road project.
“Getting the support of first responders is vital,” Coletta said. “The most important element of the interchange is the emergency access and response and availability to escape a hurricane, wildfires and other natural disasters.”
The Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue District provided one endorsement at a July 13 board meeting by approving a letter in support of the interchange.
“The board has long recognized that the residents in the eastern part of Golden Gate have very limited means of egress out of the area,” Golden Gate Fire Chief Robert Metzger said. “And that has always been a concern along with the safety of residents in the event of an emergency.”
The road project would add an I-75 interchange at Everglades Boulevard. It has been controversial because its placement could bring adverse effects to wetlands and wildlife in the area. Currently, the Florida Department of Transportation is conducting a study to define the potential effects of the proposed transportation corridor.
Even though the fire district backs the project, it revised the letter to take a broad stance on the interchange’s location.
“We are not citing a specific location,” Metzger said. “We’re not saying it has to be off Everglades or off Desoto (Boulevard). We are merely expressing support for ‘the study area.’”
The Ochopee Fire District is also on board. It endorsed the project at its July 11 board meeting.
“We realize it does affect the county and emergency resources, so it’s important that we support it,” Ochopee Fire Chief Alan McLaughlin said.
After reaching out to emergency response groups, Coletta plans to present the idea to civic and government organizations, such as chamber of commerce leaders. He is planning a major campaign push in September to spur even more awareness and support.
“This is going to be the outgoing reach to demonstrate the fact that this is recognized by the community at large as a needed improvement,” said Coletta, who would like to see road construction begin as soon as next year.
Chris Hagan, president of the East Naples Civic Association and a 26-year resident of the area, is a longtime supporter of the interchange because of its ability to provide more access.
“We have a lot of dead-end roadways and anything we can do to interconnect these networks is going to improve the flow of traffic,” Hagan said. “Having multiple access points for residents and emergencies just makes sense.”
In other major projects, overpasses at U.S. 41-Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road-Randall Boulevard are in the proposal stages. The overpass at U.S. 41 is in the county’s five-year work program; the other overpass proposal isn’t, county transportation officials said..