A bump in the road: FDOT moves ahead with smoothing out Collier Boulevard

Lance Shearer

For islanders who have been bounced around while driving down State Road 951, relief is on the way – just not right away.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has begun physical work on a long-requested and desired program of work along 951, aka Collier Boulevard, to improve conditions on the road that is Marco Island’s lifeline to reach Naples and the rest of the world. The work is scheduled to take over a year and be completed in the fall of 2020.

Expect delays:Water and sewer line project moves onto island for final phase

Workers lay out cones to shut down one lane of southbound 951. A work project along Collier Blvd., including long-awaited smoothing out of a bumpy roadway, has commenced in what will be a year-long process, with work primarily at night.

With a cost to the state of approximately $4.8 million, the project is closing one lane of the road at a time, always at night, between the hours of 8 p.m.  and 6 a.m., said FDOT spokesperson Zachary Burch. The work, along a 3.03-mile stretch of 951 from the landward side of the Jolley Bridge to Fiddler’s Creek, will include widening turn lanes, replacing curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and revamping the traffic signal lights at Mainsail Drive. Before the crews from general contractor Preferred Materials depart, they will also be milling and resurfacing the roadway, a process in which the road surface is scraped up in pellets, melted, and reapplied.

But the crux of the work is smoothing out the bumps that have jostled drivers and passengers and caused boats on trailers to briefly become airborne. This is what caused County Commissioner Donna Fiala to focus on the need for smoothing out Collier Boulevard.

In remarks to one island group, Fiala spoke of issue, saying “you know the washboard road, 951 – bump-bump-bump.”

In a telephone interview Sunday, Fiala remembered the lengths she went to trying to dramatize the problem and make it real for those who could help solve the problem. In an attempt to bring home the issue to the powers that be at FDOT, Fiala took the then-FDOT secretary, Billy Hathaway, for a drive along the road “four or five years ago. I drove,” she said, and she made sure the secretary in the passenger seat and his assistants in the back seat got to experience what Marco Islanders had been dealing with every time they made a trip to the mainland. “Then he got another job, and we had to start the process over again.”

In case you missed it stories: 

Having studied the problem, said Burch, FDOT found that a series of dips and ridges along the roadway were creating “wave action,” with each bump amplifying the next. The result, he said, “is not only annoying, it can be dangerous.

“A contributing factor is that 951 that far south is essentially built on marshland, with wetlands or open water on each side.” When the highway was widened over a decade ago, the construction process included many months for the fill roadway material that was brought in to settle and compact, but that was not enough to prevent the road surface from subsiding.

“We want to make sure that when we do it, that wave action and rutting doesn’t come back,” said Burch. Sunday evening, crews were putting out hundreds of traffic cones, deploying lighted signs announcing the road lane closures, and working under the glare of high-intensity work lights. They dug up the existing curbs, formed up and poured new curbs, advancing that part of the project about 95 feet in their night’s work.

Along with the $4.8 million for road repair, FDOT is also ponying up 80 percent of the $9.4 million cost for the new terminal being erected at the Marco Island Executive Airport at the end of Mainsail Drive. The state also provided over $1.1 million for the waterline improvements being installed by crews working for the city’s water and sewer department.

So there, along Collier Boulevard, you can see over $13.4 million of your tax dollars at work, with the cost spread among all Florida’s taxpayers. Even if, in the short-term, it looks like dust and traffic delays.