MARCO ISLAND — That’s what residents learned while attending a public hearing on Tuesday to address improvements at the intersection of U.S. 41 and S.R./C.R. 951 (Collier Boulevard).
Original plans for improving the intersection were prepared by the Florida Department of Transportation in 2008. Newer designs, developed by Collier County’s Growth Management Division, were presented for re-evaluation of the original plan. The new plans contained more advantages for safety and traffic control but came at a higher cost.
In the re-evaluation plans, construction would be divided into two phases and could begin as early as 2013. Phase I improvements would meet traffic and safety needs until the year 2025. In addition, they would build in infrastructure and mitigation factors necessary to proceed with Phase II.
In the second phase, an overpass would be constructed with traffic from Collier Boulevard passing above vehicles on U.S. 41. The overpass would allow better traffic flow through the intersection from all four directions and improve evacuation safety. It also would meet traffic needs beyond 2025.
The FDOT plan would cost approximately $14 million. The new designs would cost: in Phase I, approximately $18.7 million, and in Phase II, approximately $43.2 million for a combined total of approximately $61.9 million.
Design and construction funding for the initial plan was adopted in Collier County’s improvement programs through 2016. Costs would be borne by local funds, state grants and developer contributions.
An immediate problem for Collier Boulevard is the skew or angle change that requires drivers crossing the intersection to adjust travel direction significantly. Lane markers indicate the correct travel path but are obscured by a crest in the roadway.
“There has been a history of sideswipe crashes in the area,” said Marlene Messam, a senior project manager for Collier County’s Growth Management Division. Issues for drivers at the intersection were documented in a March 2010 Roadway Safety Audit.
Problems caused by the skew would be partially correct in Phase I by re-aligning Collier Boulevard to a certain degree, but the situation would be completely alleviated by the overpass. Pedestrian and bicyclist enhancement also would be part of initial improvements.
Mitigation factors and infrastructure changes facilitating Phase II would be included in Phase I to control costs. Purchasing approximately an acre of wetlands and right-of-way would total $8.8 million, a cost that could rise over time if not included in the first phase. All four quadrants of the intersection would require some land purchases for right-of-ways.
Construction would affect about one-quarter mile in each direction from the center of the intersection with more construction taking place on Collier Boulevard. Some business and residential entrances would become “right turn only,” or vehicles could enter but not exit from certain directions.
Keith Dameron, vice president and manager of Marco Island’s Iberia Bank reviewed the plans on Tuesday.
“The greatest development potential for Naples is right along this corridor,” he said. “This is a silent opportunity. If they don’t start moving on these improvements, they’re going to ask themselves in the future, ‘why didn’t we see the need?’ ”
Keith Siciliano, who lives next to the intersection at Falling Waters, was not so quick to embrace the re-evaluation plan.
“I don’t want that thing in front of my backyard,” he said, referring to the overpass. Siciliano, a long-time resident of South Kearny, New Jersey, worried about water after the overpass was built.
“In New Jersey, we’d get flooded out every time it rained hard. The government’s not going to bail us out,” he said.
Public speaker Will Kriz, a resident of Eagle Creek on Collier Boulevard, did not object to street level improvements but felt the overpass was unnecessary. His primary concerns were noise from the elevated road, unsightliness as the overpass would be at eye level from his condo, and increased difficulty leaving and entering Eagle Creek.
“We won’t have a prayer at getting out when there is an overpass,” he said.
Public comment can be submitted until Oct. 4, 2011, and will become part of the public hearing’s notes. After that time, comments will be evaluated in selecting the preferred alternative, and that alternative will be submitted to FDOT and the Federal Highway Administration for review and approval.
Send comments to Connie Deane, Community Liaison, Growth Management Division, 2885 S. Horseshoe Drive, Naples, FL, 34104.