Design elements for a new bridge in southwest Florida over the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers to Cape Coral may include wider lanes, enhanced safety measures and a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle crossing.
However, the cost to build the bridge is already steep and likely to go higher, the Fort Myers News-Press reported May 18.
Lee County Department of Transportation Director Randy Cerchie briefed county commissioners May 16 on various concepts being considered to replace one span of the Cape bridge and expand the other.
It was an early effort to begin public discussion about how to replace a structure originally built in the early 1960s as a two-lane crossing with one lane heading west to Cape Coral and the other coming east from the Cape to Fort Myers' southside. In 1989, a two-lane span was added and, since then, each crossing has carried two lanes of traffic in one direction.
Now Lee County is considering an estimated $185 million project to replace the westbound bridge leading to the Cape, while also adding an eastbound span. If approved, a 2030 completion date is planned, the Fort Myers news source noted.
Many Parts to New Lee County Bridge
Cape Coral's westbound bridge is eight years past its design life and is considered dangerous due to the narrowness of its road shoulders, Lee County officials said. At only 33-years-old, the eastbound span is in good condition and has another 43 years in its projected life span.
"We're very early in the design stage," Cerchie told the News-Press May 16. "We are some 40 days into a four-year design. We will seek input from stakeholders here in the next month."
Lee County's plan calls for replacing the westbound span with a three-lane crossing while improving the intersection of Del Prado Boulevard and Cape Coral Parkway to McGregor Boulevard.
If the project is built under the current design, it will include work to improve the approaches to the bridge. One of those will be through a new intersection at Del Prado Boulevard and Cape Coral Parkway with improved traffic flow patterns and more lanes to reduce the chance of vehicle accidents. In addition, the county also plans to upgrade intersections on the eastern side of the river at McGregor Boulevard.
A pedestrian bridge, accessible through easy-to-walk ramps compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, would make crossing the roads simpler, but would boost the overall cost by another $1.8 million, the Fort Myers newspaper added.
Although toll charges will continue to help pay for the Cape Coral Bridge, its toll plazas are set to be consigned to the scrap heap of history and replaced by overhead toll gantries. To move toward electronic tolling, Lee County wants to remove buildings with sensors during the construction.
Emphasis to Be Placed on Bridge Safety
The new bridge-roadway design also will include a renewed emphasis on traffic safety. Crashes have become common due to both congestion that makes sudden stops especially dangerous and drivers weaving through traffic to save a few minutes in crossing the Caloosahatchee River.
The News-Record reported that during a five-year period ending in 2018, Lee County recorded 334 accidents on the Cape Coral Bridge, 43 of which involved injuries, and 99 occurring during reduced visibility nighttime hours. Many of those crashes were rear-end collisions.
Improved traffic engineering standards in the decades since the bridge was built will help, the county noted.
Its intention is to work toward what is termed a Vision Zero Fatality and Serious Injury Goal, a concept created by the Institute of Traffic Engineers. Vision Zero is based on the idea that eliminating deadly crashes and serious injuries should always be a goal of design and construction, according to the Fort Myers news source.
Construction Will Not Begin Any Time Soon
Lee County officials caution that talk of what the bridge will look like is more about floating ideas than making decisions at this point.
"These are all concepts, nothing cut in stone, and it won't be for quite a while," said Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais during his briefing for commissioners. "It is going to take four years. Everything that you're seeing now is all concept with lots of analysis to take place."
There is a lengthy list of tasks that must be performed before work begins, he explained, including the consideration of environmental issues, potential disturbance of archeological and historical artifacts, and protecting water quality.
Cerchie added that the impact of construction on protected species and fish habitats also must be examined as the Cape Coral Bridge project moves forward.
Modern technologies could improve the appearance of the bridge, he said, because design and engineering breakthroughs can require fewer pilings holding up the bridge. While the old-school horizontal spans that link to create the current bridge are either 72-ft.- or 96-ft.-long, modern technology can double the distance.
"If we utilize today's higher strength materials we can make the beam length 144 ft., and 192 ft. on the center span, and skip every other pier location," Cerchie said. "We'd save 17 piers and all the piles being driven down [into the riverbed]."
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