By now a lot of residents and visitors have heard discussion or rumors regarding a third bridge. At last Monday's work session, I introduced this issue back to the Town Council. I was seeking their support to do research/investigate the bridge and challenges that it would bring if it were perused.
Let me begin by saying that I believe the Mid-Island Bridge will be built. The question is, "Will we ever see it?" That remains to be seen. Is it needed? I believe it is. Anyone who lives here, works here or visits here knows that it is needed. Will it help with the traffic? I believe it will.
The idea of adding another bridge has been around for a long time. Numerous options have been discussed but economic, environmental and other issues have always nixed the idea while it was still in the discussion stage.
The traffic here on the island, four months out of the year, is horrendous. Imagine the environmental impact of having bumper-to-bumper cars, a solid four hours every day, lined up inching their way both on and off the beach. The two-lane San Carlos Boulevard line in the afternoon stretches for miles, to Kelly Rd and beyond. During the day, it goes three to four miles down the island six miles, from the bridge south. This becomes so unbearable for some that when they reach the library they shoot up the center lane, mostly at a high speed, causing a hazard to themselves, pedestrians, bicyclists and people exiting the side street. I have also seen cars cutting down the sidewalk to take the next street.
I believe one key event makes this bridge worthy of another discussion. About a year or two ago, a barge hit the Matanzas Pass Bridge, knocking off a large piece of concrete from a main support girder. The bridge was closed for a few hours for safety concerns. The girder did not sustain a significant amount of damage and it was repairable. If the barge had hit harder, however, serious damage would have resulted in closing the bridge for an extended period of time.
We live and work on a barrier island that is also a wonderful tourist destination. To a great extent, our "way of life" is dependent upon the singular Matanzas Pass Bridge. The economy of the north end of Estero Island is definitely dependent upon it. We are very vulnerable to massive hurricanes, such as Charley in 2004. If, for any reason, the Matanzas Pass Bridge is out of commission for an extended period, the north end businesses will die a slow death.
Additionally, the bridge is about 32 years old at its mid- to late-life expectancy. How much longer can it be maintained without extensive repairs and/or replacement? It is located front stage to a heavy saltwater environment. The condition of the support pilings needs to be checked. Sanibel's bridge had to be replaced for that reason. With a mid-island bridge in place, the northern Matanzas Bridge could be closed for repair/replacement with a lesser impact on the island. I will be meeting with FDOT to review the last inspection, Feb 2012, and to inquire if the North Bridge can support three lanes of traffic. With Estero Blvd about fouryears away from being redone now would be the perfect time to see if an additional lane could help the traffic.
The commute time of EMS to Health Park would be cut by more than 10 minutes from the south/mid-island with this more direct route. If needed, the Summerlin-Winkler Fire Rescue station would have direct access to assist in Island emergencies. The new bridge would also provide an additional evacuation route. Emergency evacuation during season is impossible.
I have had a lot of feed-back on this issue. Some say deal with it, it's only 3-4 months out of the year. Other cities have traffic congestion and people put up with it. It is true that it's only 3-4 months out of the year and yes other cities have congestion as well, but congestion else where does not take one to two hourrs to go two to three miles.
I do want to stress that this is purely "FACT" finding at this point. Nothing more!