FDOT official: Fiala’s advocacy kept the issue top of mind

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Some of the lights are canted at crazy angles. Some are simply dark. Some have been torn off altogether. And a minority of them work.

Last September, Hurricane Irma blew through, and blew out most of the streetlights above the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge. Ever since, Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, who represents Marco Island, has been trying to get the Florida Department of Transportation, which has responsibility for State Road 951, to repair the broken lights. Now it seems that relief may be on the way.

“I started calling them probably on Nov. 1. I gave them a chance” to take care of the most urgent priorities after Irma, said Fiala. “Each MPO meeting I bring it up, once a month. They keep saying it’s down on the list but not the most important thing.”

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As a county commissioner, Fiala sits on the board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, dealing with county-wide infrastructure issues.

Zachary Burch, government affairs and communications manager for FDOT, confirmed that, while fixing the Jolley Bridge lighting has had to wait while other, more urgent work was accomplished, the repair has now gotten onto the priority list.

“The Federal Highway Administration doesn’t deem lighting to be an emergency. We did go out to be sure the lights were safe. We’re bidding out the contract soon and expect the work to be done later this year,” he said. “We have asked the contractor to prioritize the Jolley Bridge first, since there has been so much concern expressed about the lack of lighting there. We appreciate the patience of the folks on Marco Island and southern Collier County while we get the work done.”

Overall, the lighting project will include all 12 counties of FDOT’s District 1, with much of the cost to be reimbursed by FEMA, he said. Burch provided an estimate of approximately $33 million that the department had spent on hurricane-related fixes since Irma.

“This is primarily for debris cleanup, repair and replacement of signs and signals as well as roadway repair in areas where the road was actually damaged. Though some, like Collier and Lee were hit harder than others, all of our counties experienced some effects from the storm last year.”

Fiala has also been agitating with FDOT for the “washboard” section on Collier Boulevard from the Jolley Bridge north to Fiddler’s Creek. Her office shared constituent emails regarding the road conditions there. The road “has waves in it like being in a boat; swells that make your car or others fly thru the air,” wrote Robin Okolski in 2017. “I have already broken a strut in our pick up and won't drive my Corvette because it bottoms on the waves. I have almost been killed at least 10 times by people who cannot control their vehicles.”

Burch agreed the roadway is deficient, and in an unusual manner.

“It’s not a normal wear pattern. Usually we have potholes, or ruts down the road. Waves are unusual,” he said. Before repairing the surface, they need to determine what is going on. “We don’t want to spend a bunch of money and then have to go back again.”

Burch said the work will go out to bid early next year and should be physically worked on “in the early part of next summer.” The work was advanced from its original schedule of 2023, said Burch, who credited Fiala’s advocacy for keeping the issue top of mind. Marco Island City Councilor Joe Batte, who also sits on the MPO as the city’s representative, could not be reached for comment.  

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