Traffic study – City Council approves funding to improve Marco’s congestion issues

Christian Metzger
In a move to solve Marco Island’s traffic woes, the city council moved to fund an intelligent traffic study that would evaluate the changes needed to be made to improve traffic flow around the island.

In a move to solve Marco Island’s traffic woes, City Council moves to fund an intelligent traffic study that would evaluate the changes needed to be made to improve traffic flow around the island.

The study, which was approved for a $250,000 budget, would take place over the major business season next year and would evaluate the main arterial roads and find new ways to direct traffic and reduce congestion along key intersections.

“What we have in the budget is some money for engineering work to assess our traffic management, our signalization, our roadways, our turn lanes and all that, to see how technology could be applied to improving traffic circulation,” City Manager Mike McNees said, one of the leads behind the study proposal alongside Public Works Director Mike Daniel.

The intersections along Collier Boulevard, Bald Eagle Drive, Barfield Road, and Elkham Circle are of prime concern for the study. The first light coming off the Jolley Bridge, where Collier intersects with Barfield, is among the most important, as backups along the bridge have caused significant delays to tourists and workers coming on and off the island.

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While the issue of traffic has remained a concern of island residents for the last several years, members of the city council highlighted how it only worsened following the pandemic last season.

“The last season was highly frustrating for the residents because it was a very, very busy season.  We were just coming out of COVID and there was this ‘I've been freed from jail’ attitude,” Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz said, “The traffic system doesn't didn't work very well at all. There were long waits at stoplights, particularly, we just didn't get the traffic off the island in the afternoon when people's shifts were ending.”

Another contributing factor to the congestion, Brechnitz said, is the number of contractors coming on and off the island with the rise of new construction on the island’s remaining vacant lots over the past couple of years. That on top of the added tourist traffic during the busiest seasons leaves the roads backed up during the most critical times of the day.

Traffic is much better during the off season. In a move to solve Marco Island’s traffic woes during peak times, City Council moved to fund an intelligent traffic study that would evaluate the changes needed to be made to improve traffic flow around the island.

“During season we have 9000 vehicles across Jolley Bridge. And so, our systems are not coordinated well enough to make sure that these vehicles get on the island and to their destination,” Brechnnitz said.

While Marco Island has over 100 miles of streets, it only has 17 signals to direct traffic, adding to the backup along the main roads. Another challenge facing the study, however, is that none of the roads on the island can be widened to increase traffic flow.

 “We can't really build more roads. We can't build wider roads. And so, we have to manage as best we can n putting some money into signalization improvements, turn lane improvements, and those kinds of things we think will pay us back.” McNees said.

The solution, according to city officials, will be using modern technology to manipulate how cars travel across the island, and that starts with an overhaul of the island’s traffic control system.

Marco Island’s current system operates independently from the rest of Collier County’s network and hasn’t had a significant update in several years, something the study would aim to rectify.

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“We have not modernized our traffic signals. In a long time. There are places where there are only three lights, or there should be a left turn signal, blinking left, or something like that. I think that we just really need to modernize and update with technology,” Councilor Becky Irwin said.

The city plans to contract work out to a company that specializes in traffic evaluation, which will study the key points of congestion over the course of several weeks and make recommendations about the steps the city can take toward overhauling its traffic infrastructure.

“We've identified a couple of companies that can do the study, they can design the system. And then we need them to service the system because the electronics are not perfect. They don't work always. They need maintenance and repair. We don't have the staff or the expertise to do it,” Brechnitz said.

McNees and members of the city council however are already looking at the kind of modern technology that can be integrated into the existing network – sensors, cameras, lengthened turn lanes, and a new computer system that’d coordinate the city’s traffic with greater efficiency.

“One thing that we're going to be looking at is if there is an event on the island, moving traffic to and from that event, and allowing other local traffic to maybe traverse the island on a different route. You can do that by manipulating traffic signals and which directions are their cars going to,” Councilor Jared Grifoni said, “utilizing that information to make the traffic flow smoother for everybody in the area.”

The new systems would allow for real-time monitoring of all the island’s traffic and allow for the better redirection of traffic towards other roads and for turn signals to stay on for longer periods depending on the number of vehicles present in the lane.

“It's all about efficiency. It's about using technology, new developments that may not have been available to the city five, 10, 20 years ago, and seeing the impact that exists today. And what can we do to lessen that burden in both an intelligent manner and also a fiscally responsible one,” Grifoni said.

The proposal for the study is not expected to move forward until it’s formally approved in the budget in September, and work is not expected to commence until the following year.

Implementation of the study’s results will be a process that is slowly undertaken over the next several years, McNees and the members of the city council said. Though the results of the study won’t be visible to residents, they said, taking meaningful steps to combat congestion will improve everyone’s experience on the island.

“The city council really wants to make Marco Island as easy to use as possible for everyone. And that very much includes traffic,” Irwin said, “So this is one of those things nobody can do but the city so it's incumbent upon us to do it.”