I believe everyone is aware of the planned development at the end of Main Street on San Carlos Island. The five high-rises, convention center and hotel are in their final review processes with the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.
The county commissioned an engineering study to determine the development's impact on traffic. The survey concluded there would be "minimal impact" on the beach traffic. The high-rises planned would provide the same number of units that exist on the site now, therefore no new traffic added.
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach, including me, do not object to the developers plans to move forward with this project. I moved to the beach in 2003 and love this island community. Since moving here, I always believed San Carlos Island was ripe for development. This is a beautiful location with a Back Bay setting and breath-taking scenery. I believe this upscale redevelopment will eventually occur from Salty Sam's to the Matanzas Bridge.
We can only hope "progress" is done carefully and properly with our island community setting in mind. Additionally, we should encourage developers to keep and incorporate the shrimp fleet, which I believe they plan to do. The fleet is an essential part of the motif of our environment and atmosphere.
I also believe islanders should support this growth. This first step in the development of San Carlos Island will bring jobs and huge numbers of tourists to the area, meaning more jobs and higher property values.
I also, as many of you do, feel that a blind approach to our traffic is not the answer. With the hotel, convention center, shops, restaurants and boardwalk, the area will be a magnet to visitors and locals alike. I can see a traffic/accident nightmare occurring at the bottom of the bridge and Buttonwood Drive both in and out of season. We have seen the effect of this area's traffic at night when the Key West Express docks off load. I believe the congestion at these two intersections will be an all day long occurrence. During season, all that would be required is to have the first car at the Buttonwood Drive light trying to make a left turn with San Carlos Boulevard traffic backed up and stopped through the intersection. More cars will back up and have to sit through the alternating lights. This is a daily occurrence at the Buttonwood intersection in season.
With Estero Boulevard on the 5-year CIP and San Carlos under redesign, now is the ideal time to take steps to address the nightmarish traffic on this island. We have seen so many improvements in our community lately and this trend should be continued. With the North Estero Improvement Project, beach re-nourishment completed, the water utility and drainage are soon to start.
I have always believed that one major project could go a long way to helping the traffic nightmare both in and off-season. Imagine that even with the Ebb Tide development, how many more people would come to the Beach if traffic were not an issue. My idea of having a "mid-island bridge" has been tried before and failed, but I believe it can be accomplished now and should be given serious consideration. A "mid-island bridge" would go a long way to relieving the pressure on the North Matanzas Bridge. This north bridge is 35 years old and, within 10 years, we will be looking at major repairs and/or replacement required to keep the bridge in service.
I do believe that FDOT should be commissioned to do a study to see if the Matanzas Bridge could support three lanes of traffic. Additionally, the support pilings should be inspected to see their condition. Sanibel lost their bridge because of the pilings.
To see the importance of the north bridge, shut it down for two weeks and the north end of Estero Island would die. We had a scare a few years ago when a barge hit the bridge and shut it down for only a few hours. With the age of this bridge and how critical it is to our community, all options should be given serious consideration. I will be making a formal presentation to the Council soon on a mid-island bridge and other ways to lessen the traffic problems for both Estero and San Carlos islands.
The Ebb Tide development is only the beginning for investors on San Carlos Island, and the County Commissioners should take a pro-active approach when it comes to this area of the county and traffic. A fair portion of TDC funds comes from Fort Myers Beach, and we should all work together to solve the traffic nightmare.
Kosinski is an island resident and engineer.