NORTH NAPLES — Many drivers who navigate the roads in northern Collier County are in favor of adding a traffic light on U.S. 41 at the entrance to a major shopping center just south of Immokalee Road.
Among them is Debby Ramassini, who said a traffic light is much needed at Creekside Boulevard, the entrance to the Granada Shoppes on U.S. 41, especially after the opening of Trader Joe's.
Heading south on U.S. 41, there's a left-turn lane to reach Creekside Boulevard but cars have to cross three lanes of northbound traffic to get there.
"It's dangerous any time of the day," said Ramassini, who has been a North Naples resident for 30 years. "People are going too fast."
Meanwhile, the Granada Shoppes is quickly filling up with tenants, bringing more drivers to the area. As it does, a traffic signal is still under discussion.
This year, the plaza added the much-anticipated Trader Joe's — the first store of the chain in Florida, Truly Organic Pizza, Frozen Yogurt Cloud, Hair Color Xperts, Sunbuilt Construction, Equity Realty, Advance Auto Parts and the seasonal holiday store for Spirit Halloween. In addition, Moe's restaurant relocated into a larger site.
In 2013, Chuck E. Cheese will join the other tenants at the plaza that sits just east of the intersection of U.S. 41 North and Immokalee Road. And Home Depot is actively negotiating with several national tenants for the former Expo Design Center space, said Jim Zaydon, senior leasing and sales manager of Courtelis Co., developer of the shopping center, in a statement.
Granada Shoppes opened in July 2000; its existing stores include Haverty's, Pier One Imports, Marshalls, Men's Wearhouse, Starbucks and First Watch.
Many motorists also say it is hard to turn left across the median onto U.S. 41 when exiting Creekside Boulevard or the shopping center.
Like many, Ramassini avoids crossing the median and proceeds to the traffic light at Immokalee Road.
"Getting out is a pain in the neck," agreed Fred Lynch, 67, of North Naples. "Anytime it's a danger. I think something should be done."
The Florida Department of Transportation approved a traffic light for the intersection years ago but the center's developer hasn't applied for a permit to install a traffic signal, said Debbie Tower, Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
"It's the developer's responsibility to install a signal and he has not pursued it with the Florida Department of Transportation," Tower said.
Whether it happens will be based on need — and if a traffic signal gets installed it won't be the state or county government that pays for it. The developers and property owners in the area would be responsible for the cost of installation of the traffic signal, Tower said.
If a traffic signal gets installed at U.S. 41 North and Creekside Boulevard, it won't be the state or county government that pays for it. Private businesses would share the cost of the signal, including the developer of the Granada Shoppes and one of its neighbors, the Naples Daily News.
The cost is estimated at $500,000.
The cost-share agreements for the signal are wrapped up in the planned unit developments, or PUDs, the County Commission approved for several projects — including the Naples Daily News headquarters, which has a back entrance off Creekside Boulevard. PUDs offer more flexible uses than regular zoning.
Blake Gable, president of the Barron Collier Cos. in Naples, which developed the Creekside Commerce Park, said his company favors putting a traffic light at the intersection, which could benefit businesses and the community, but there is no deal with the county.
Developer's representative Zaydon said in an email that adding a traffic light on U.S. 41 would be a question for government officials.
Margie Hapke, a county government spokeswoman, said county staff members have been coordinating with the developers, but there's no decision yet.
According to traffic counts for 2011 in DOT's annual average daily traffic report, 48,500 vehicles traveled on U.S. 41 south of Immokalee Road and 53,500 vehicles traveled on U.S. 41 immediately north of Immokalee Road.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office reported four traffic accidents in the four months after the trendy Trader Joe's grocery store opened in February. According to the Sheriff's Office, there were four traffic crashes reported there in the year prior to the store's opening.
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East Naples resident Joe King supports adding a traffic light on Creekside Boulevard and U.S. 41.
"I see a lot of near misses," he said.
King, 75, said traffic has increased since the opening of Trader Joe's so he avoids U.S. 41 to get into the plaza. Instead, King, like many other drivers interviewed for this story, said he uses the back way via Goodlette-Frank Road to get to Granada Shoppes.
The company that operates the Daily News favors putting a traffic light at the intersection and working with the county staff and other property owners to get one installed, said Kelly Benson, director of operations at the Daily News.
"We certainly would not want an accident there," she said. "A light would satisfy everybody's needs."
Benson said there has been discussion about adding a light, yet nobody knows a date when it might happen. The Daily News would have to share the cost of the traffic signal if it is installed. Benson said the Daily News' portion would be between 15 and 20 percent of the cost.
The cost is estimated at $500,000, Connie Deane, a Collier County transportation spokeswoman, told the Daily News in February.
Thomas Ray, president of Encore National Bank at Granada Shoppes, said he hasn't noticed a long line of cars on southbound U.S. 41, nor has he heard more complaints about traffic, so he doesn't favor adding a traffic light as of now because he hasn't seen a problem.
"Drivers have figured out how to get in there," Ray said.
Officials of Arthrex, another business located in the PUD, didn't immediately have a comment about the traffic light.
Both Alison Mochizuki, spokeswoman for Trader Joe's, and John Taylor, spokesman for Sprint, declined to comment about the traffic light.
Chuck E. Cheese, the kids-based pizza chain, is slated to open in the former Linens n Things 14,512-square-foot space in the spring or summer of 2013. Chuck E. Cheese officials couldn't be reached for comment about the traffic signal question.In 2009, Home Depot closed all of its Expo businesses across the country.
"We're actively marketing the property, but we can't specify interested parties at this time," spokesman Stephen Holmes said. "It's a great space."
There are three spaces vacant in the plaza — a 6,662-square-foot site adjacent to Trader Joe's, a 16,627-square-foot site adjacent to the Chuck E. Cheese location and a 3,200-square-foot site.