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Village of Estero Meetings

19 Jun
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03 Jul
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Safety Council

Engage Estero Safety Council is made of volunteers serving as a voice for the citizens of greater Estero on safety and transportation priorities and issues. We advocate for related solutions to Village, County, and State Government organizations.

Latest news…
Driving Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility!

Driving Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility!

One of the major causes of vehicular accidents is distracted driving. We have entered the “100 Deadliest Days” - the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when fatal teen crashes increase dramatically. Parents are the best line of defense to ensure a safe ride!...

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Corkscrew Road: What is going on, and when?

Corkscrew Road: What is going on, and when?

Corkscrew Road: What is going on, and when? (Written by Mark Novitski, Consultant to Engage Estero) Updated May 2024 Corkscrew Road Updates Corkscrew Road Widening – Jump to: Ben Hill Griffin to the East side of Bella Terra East side of Bella Terra to Alico Road Three...

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Environment Council

Engage Estero Environment Council is a volunteer group focusing on improving water and air quality and mitigating and eliminating the effects of climate warming in greater Estero.

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Health Council

Engage Estero Community Health Council comprises health* and safety-minded volunteers who think about community health comprehensively with a common desire to improve the overall health of the citizens of greater Estero.

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The “Skinny” On Obesity

The “Skinny” On Obesity

By Robert P. Belin, M.D. Chairperson, Health and Wellness Breckenridge, Golf and Tennis Club, and member of Engage Estero’s Health Council For the first time, the FDA has approved medication for weight loss! So, why is this important and in the news non-stop? It’s...

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Education Council

Engage Estero mobilizes volunteers in our schools, sponsors scholarships, and promotes the involvement of the community through announcements and public forums.

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Updates on Issues of Impact

Engage Estero believes the best way to get a community involved is to make sure they are aware of the issues impacting their future, and know how to impact those decisions before they are made. We conduct and publish original research and articles aimed at getting residents Engaged.

The Engage Estero Public Forum Traffic Congestion in Greater Estero

(Written by Allan Bowditch, Engage estero’s Chief Communications Officer)

Introduction

The building boom in the Estero area started in 1998 when the airport, Florida Gulf Coast University, Miromar Outlets, and The Brooks began attracting residential development. There were 550 housing units built in 1998; the following year, that number doubled to 1,150. By the end of the 20th century, Estero’s total number of housing units was about 6,300. Since 2000, Estero has added 16,467 housing units, most of them during the building boom, which lasted through early 2007. Anyone living in the area during this development period would have been dismayed by the changes and increasing traffic density.

Fast-forward to today. Estero, incorporated in 2014, now has a population of approximately 35,000, which rises to around 60,000 to 65,000 between January and April, excluding those in greater Estero living east of Bella Terra.

Residents in greater Estero have expressed their dismay at the increasing traffic congestion, prompting Engage Estero to set up a Public Forum. The meeting occurred at the Estero High School on April 16th, drawing an audience of almost 100 residents.

The Public Forum Summary.

The panelists comprised:

Ted Treesh, TR Transportation Consultants, has over 20 years of experience in transportation engineering and planning. (Far right)

Carmen Monroy, Stantec Inc., has over 35 years of experience in multimodal transportation planning and focuses on transportation, performance-based management, visioning, creative engagement, and planning. (3rd from left)

Max Forgey Planning has over 30 years of professional experience in Florida’s local government planning and community development. (Far left)

Wayne Gaither, Florida Department of Transport, has 20 years of experience in the transportation industry in Southwest Florida. (2nd from left)

The meeting was chaired by Allan Bowditch, Engage Estero’s Chief Communications Officer.

In addressing the issues that have led to congestion in greater Estero, Max Forgey mentioned that Florida’s population in recent years has grown from the 7th largest state to the 3rd largest in 2020 with a population of 21.5million.  California and Texas both much larger states by area were 1st and 2nd. New York state was 4th after Florida surpassed its population during the previous decade. He explained the complexity of gaining approval from multiple governmental organizations for development.

He stated that Legislative moves have made it easier for developers to gain acceptance of their projects, even though Local governments at the County and municipality levels still had comprehensive plans to guide growth. Part of the current difficulty is that, on the one hand, many land parcels were approved for various land use reasons in their applications, often dating back to the 1980s and ’90s. Once state approval has been given, municipalities like Estero cannot prevent development on these parcels, although certain modifications and rulings can be made.

Typically, the County or the municipality can enforce its comprehensive plan requirements when the developer wants to deviate from the previously approved plan. Additionally, many developments were approved by the county before the incorporation of the Village of Estero.

Another issue cited by the panel was that because of the many gated communities developed in greater Estero since the late 90s, creating a “grid” based road network has not been possible. The grid layout features streets intersecting at right angles, forming a series of squares or rectangles. This pattern promotes easy navigation and efficient land use, making it popular in many urban areas. Unfortunately, this road pattern could not be adopted in our area.

Carmen Monroy stated that “population growth is exponential, not linear, which makes it harder for the planning process to adapt.  You can underestimate the planning need when faced with exponential growth.” Wayne Gaither added that in addition to population growth, there is a growth in the traffic volume and the level of commercial traffic serving the population.  This will range from 5% growth to 23% in the next five years. Single-purpose trips exacerbate the problem, but combining trips will have a positive effect on reducing congestion.

The panel was then asked, “Many residents living along East Corkscrew have concerns about the slow progress on the road widening. Given the timeline for the build-out, why is the road widening so far behind the developments on that road? What, if anything, can be done to improve the situation?”

Carmen Monroy made several important points regarding what might appear to be a slow process to the public. In reality, it has to address many factors and involves considerable time. While this might appear to be frustrating, it is a necessity.

  • The apparent slowness to build address a traffic solution is intentional to
    • ensure the solution is needed and appropriate alternatives are developed.
    • to make sure that other solutions are not an option.
  • The policymakers, politicians, and others involved must visit and stand on the road they plan to modify. They must look in both directions and take in the current “sense of place,” appreciating that it will disappear and a new visual experience will emerge. This has to be considered and agreed upon.
  • Policymakers need to understand the complexity of infrastructure systems. The road is not just the surface; it is a system of multiple utilities comprising water, sewer, communications, traffic controls, etc., all of which need to be considered in the roadway’s design.
  • One of the road development process’s most difficult and time-consuming aspects is the various easement requirements. This process is very complex and lengthy as it involves every landowner and their access to the proposed roadway. You cannot begin until all easements are agreed upon and in place.

Ted Treesh mentioned that the Corkscrew Road Service Aera (CRSA) was a funding mechanism for widening Corkscrew Road.  Treesh provided some history about the original funding mechanism to widen Corkscrew Road over time and explained that developers eventually got relief for funding the CRSA, putting the burden back on the taxpayer.

Note: Members of the Communities served on the board of the Corkscrew CRSA, which was sunsetted when the Village was established in 2014 because it was a Lee County BOCC-chartered government entity. Funds were used to update Corkscrew Road in 2012.

Nonetheless, given Engage Estero’s recently published timeline, it is a concern for those currently living on East Corkscrew and those who plan to live in the new communities1 that are planned.

Corkscrew Road Widening – Ben Hill Griffin to East side of Bella Terra

The project widens Corkscrew Road to six lanes from Ben Hill Griffin Parkway to Fire House Lane and four lanes from Fire House Lane to the east boundary of Bella Terra.

The project includes adding on-road bike lanes and some sidewalks, installing new drainage, and constructing a wildlife crossing approximately 1000 feet west of the entrance to Cypress Shadows Boulevard. This crossing will coincide with a regional flow way that crosses Corkscrew Road at that location.  Completion is now scheduled for April 2024. The contractor is completing installing the fence on the north side (Wildblue) to direct wildlife to the wildlife crossing. The first lift of paving for the westbound section from the entrance to The Preserve at Corkscrew to the entrance of Rivercreek/Wildblue was completed in February 2024. The crossover to traffic in the appropriate eastbound/westbound lanes (to allow construction of the two medians – Rivercreek & Wild Blue, Wildcat Run) was accomplished overnight on March 3 & 4, 2024.

The BOCC approved contract amendment (#6) at the Commission meeting on February 20th, 2024, to increase the construction cost and add 30 days for completion. This moved the completion date to the end of April 2024 (36 months)2. Engage Estero and the East Corkscrew Alliance will continue to try to move up the planned timeline.

Wayne Gaither made the point that FDOT has a planning process in place.  FDOT works closely with county and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) to identify local projects that are a priority over a 25-year horizon. FDOT is tasked with environmental assessments of the project to ensure all environmental issues are addressed. Treesh also said, “Lee County is challenged in prioritizing the annual road projects.  The County has a CIP wish list of over $1B annually.” The financial implications are a factor, but perhaps so too is the need to make a strong case for what is deemed a priority, given that Wayne Gaither stated later that FDOT DOES pay attention to public input!   

About the important question of “What solutions have been introduced here or abroad that have successfully addressed traffic congestion and could be worthy of consideration in our area?” several significant points emerged.

  • It was stated that introducing more roundabouts was an important consideration. They. are widely used overseas in Europe and other countries because: –
    • They are safer (because speeds are lower than speeds through traffic signals, plus collisions are not usually head-on or at right angles.)
    • Frequency and severity of crashes are reduced.
    • Traffic flow moving through intersections is improved.
    • They can be used at Intersections where traffic changes direction.
  • New vehicle technologies like proximity detection systems, etc., also improve safety and traffic flow. When an accident occurs, journey time is delayed by an average factor of three, but depending on the seriousness of the collision, it could be many more times that!
  • New technologies improving the safe movement of emergency vehicles are also working to improve response times and safety.
  • Fiberoptic communications to/from all signals assist in improving traffic flow. FDOT coordinates these timing issues with Lee County DOT to maximize the use of the data.

However, not all solutions introduced in other countries will likely be useful in the USA, specifically Southwest Florida. While there are learnings that could be considered from other countries that could improve traffic congestion, we have to recognize that the mindset of residents in America is somewhat different from that of Europeans and other countries.

  • Public transport use and availability in the US are much lower. Its availability and general attitude against public transport are key factors.
  • The road layouts in many localities, especially in Florida, where few grid systems are in place, are not conducive to some solutions used elsewhere. Subdivisions are built as islands and are not interconnected. As a result, short distances become more extended. People use the car to compensate for the inconveniences of time and distance.
  • The original assumptions of commuting patterns have changed. For instance, in the early stages of Cape Coral’s growth, everyone worked in Ft. Myers. That is not necessarily true today; more workers are needed further south because of residential development, which has changed traffic flow patterns.
  • The view in the USA that the car is “King” is an issue, and people do not want to give up the car in a hurry!
  • The dangers of cycling and walking in Southwest Florida dissuade many from taking that option—all play a role in limiting what improvements can be considered.

Estero Village Council and management are taking steps to enhance the network of bike lanes, keeping them separate from traffic. In addition, the hoped-for development of the north/south Seminole Railway into a “Rails to Trails” recreational facility to enable cyclists, pedestrians, and rollerbladers to travel safely away from traffic will be an important option, especially as it will link with other East/West routes.

Unfortunately, senior management at the Lee Department of Transport (LDOT) refused to allow any organization members to become involved in the Public Forum despite being asked several times. This was disappointing. During a recent visit to LDOT’s operational offices by several members of Engage Estero and The East Corkscrew Alliance, we were given a detailed explanation of the “state-of-the-art” systems employed to keep our local traffic moving as efficiently as possible. It was impressive and would have been a valuable addition to the meeting. We learned from the meeting that LDOT receives many requests for speaking engagements, and with limited resources (personnel and dollars), they judge which request to support.

LDOT uses Centracs ATMS, a flexible and scalable user interface offering an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) that provides Transport Departments such as LDOT with feature-rich options that meet the evolving needs of traffic control.

  • Almost all the traffic lights in Lee County (including the Florida Department of Transportation [FDOT] and Municipalities) are under the control of LDOT. LDOT has interlocal agreements with FDOT and Municipalities.
  • LDOT controls 454 traffic signals (intersections). 9 traffic signals in Lee County are not connected.
  • The Village of Estero has one traffic signal they own and can control – Via Coconut and Coconut Rd.
  • Information and the observation of the system are shared with law enforcement and the media. The clips you see on the news come from FDOT or LDOT cameras (FDOT or LDOT logo in the corner of the screen).
  • LDOT can review cameras on I75 but not control them. However, there is regular communication between FDOT and LDOT, especially when traffic congestion due to an accident occurs. Data is shared where specific incidents arise.
  • FDOT and Municipalities determine when any updates are needed to the timing of their signals.
  • LDOT traffic engineers/technicians have the authority to make on-the-fly timing adjustments on traffic signals and have remote access to the system.
  • The timing of all traffic signals is reviewed and analyzed by a consultant on a 3–5-year basis.

LDOT operates a Traffic Response System.

  • A “plan” is created that identifies the traffic signal timing.
  • LDOT creates “clusters” of coordinated traffic signals and creates a “plan” for the “cluster.”
  • There is a “cluster” for the signals at the two entrances to Miromar Outlets: the signal at Ben Hill Griffin and Corkscrew Rd and the signal at Corkscrew Rd and Stoneybrook Golf Dr. (for Pinewoods Elementary).
  • There are no “clusters” on Three Oaks Blvd.
  • The plan for East Corkscrew Rd is ready to be operational once construction in Phase I widening is completed.

Looking forward, LDOT has requested and is likely to receive

  • A new pre-emption system. This would enhance the current system, which enables emergency vehicles to turn lights to green on their approach. It would also allow their route to be turned green, speeding up response time.
  • This system could also be used with Lee Tran Buses. If, for example, a bus on a route is running late, the light system on the road could be adjusted to favor the bus and enable it to run closer to the forecast schedule.

What was also encouraging and will be of value in enhancing traffic flow were the following developments: –

  • LDOT has microwave traffic counters at various locations within the network.
  • Bluetooth readers are used to record speed. Individual vehicles with Bluetooth (vehicle or cell phone) are identified and tracked over a certain distance to derive the time taken and the calculated speed to travel that distance. No personal data is collected. This provides divided time across the area to ensure a more even traffic flow.
  • The “syncro” system helps build models for important routes/roadways. Traffic flow models are then constructed for various times of the day, which adjust the signal sequence to improve traffic flow. This can assist traffic control in determining how the lights on a particular route need to be adjusted.
  • LDOT is working to install additional traffic counters as construction happens on Lee County roads.
  • Some of these are within Estero Village, and their data could be valuable in the current and future Village Traffic projects.

While there may be drawbacks in not being able to apply certain solutions that have been implemented overseas, it is encouraging to learn that our State and County Departments of Transport are looking to optimize the technologies with enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to optimize what are limitations in the road infrastructure that exists in our area for the reasons already explained.  Another comment that needs to be appreciated is that, sadly, the driving behavior in Florida is poor. Insurance rates are some of the highest in the USA. Aggressive driving behaviors such as tailgating, excessive speeding, disobeying traffic signals, and weaving through traffic lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. Driving behavior needs to improve, which will improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.

However, at the end of the formal questions, the panel was asked whether grassroots movements to improve traffic congestion are effective and successful. Wane Gaither (FDOT) stated, “The road network is built on the feedback system of the MPO organization. However, public input is needed to make the system successful. The public has a voice, and they need to make it known to the various MPOs, transport departments, and municipalities so they can be heard.” He went on to make it clear to the audience that “solutions come from community input.”  

The Village of Estero recently selected a Village resident to sit on the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to the MPO. This is one way to get our local voice heard!

Engage Estero is working hard to understand and document who is responsible for what when it comes to road safety and transportation. At the same time, LCSO had enforcement of traffic laws with partners from Florida Highway Patrol, FDLE, and other law enforcement agencies. There are other responsible parties in the process: Lee District Schools (bus stop locations), local municipalities (multi-use paths), Lee County Planning Agency, developers (lining up intersections for a shared traffic signal), drivers, bikers, and pedestrians!

1 Comment

  1. I think the Village should address the problems caused by the new traffic signal at Lowe’s. Both in the morning and worse in the afternoon there are big backups at 3 Oaks. caused by that light not clearing the stacked traffic coming from the West at Corkscrew Rd. That backs up clear past the light at Country Creek. The right turn on red coming off 3 Oaks from the South fills up the lanes before the traffic light changes allowing few cars through the intersection East Bound. In addition because the right lane turn from 3 Oaks southbound is backing up to the Lowe’s entrance causing cars to go speeding through the interior road to cut to the new traffic light on Corkscrew. A dangerous action especially in season. Timing adjustments need to occur to alleviate this situation.

References

  1. Current Planned Developments in Greater Estero, Updated: February 2024 https://www.esterotoday.com/development-summary/
  2. Corkscrew Road: What is going on and when? (Written by Mark Novitski, Consultant to Engage Estero)