Traffic mitigation has been on the minds of the residential and business community of Fort Myers Beach since before most people can remember.
Estero Island, which has long been one of the top tourist destinations in Lee County, suffers from traffic congestion and inadequate parking during three to four months annually beginning each February when part-time residents and visitors combined with full-time residents begin their travel to and off the Beach.
On Monday, in a FMB Town Council workshop, Vice Mayor Joe Kosinski pitched a long-term parking facility idea that would involve an entrance to it only from a ramp coming off Matanzas Bridge to help alleviate the two major issues that plaque the Beach. The idea would require more thought, a lot of money and a joint partnership with property owners in the vicinity as well as shared development rights.
"I would like to see the Council in a more pro-active role to address some of the major issues on the Beach," said Kosinski.
The engineer by trade wrote a proposal and submitted it to be part of Town documents for the workshop. In it, he stated, "traffic and parking are two of the most pressing issues we have here on Fort Myers Beach. What if half the cars coming over the bridge season do not make it to the bottom of the bridge?"
Kosinski acknowledged the idea of a parking facility has been discussed before, but in more of a Town-owned venture. He believes the thinking should involve a private/public partnership with parking fees dispersed among the affected businesses.
"If we can keep cars from actually reaching the bottom of the bridge, it would keep them off of Estero Boulevard," he said.
The idea involves an overhead sign at the top of the bridge directing traffic to a designated right lane for the parking facility only, an entrance ramp towards the bottom (beach side) of the bridge on that lane that flows onto the parking facility with accommodations of roughly 500 to 600 vehicles.
An auxiliary garage would also be built for overflow parking. Drivers would be routed to that secondary garage once the main facility is full as indicated by a car counter, and a sign would flash "garage full, proceed to auxiliary garage" to inform.
"Once that car garage gets full, we would incorporate an overhead ramp into a second garage," said Kosinski. "We need to make this idea attractive for the property owners to give up their parking."
The main facility would involve 3 to 4 levels including shops and boutiques on the lower level along Old San Carlos Boulevard and North Estero Boulevard with employee parking, delivery area and separate garbage facility behind it. That parking area would require a key card access.
The main garage would also produce an overhead walkway to Times Square to alleviate the pedestrian crossing at the corner of North Estero and Old San Carlos boulevards.
Once visitors are through with their Beach experience for the day, an exit ramp would parallel the bridge and take drivers off island via Third (behind SOBs) and Crescent streets and Fifth Avenue.
Kosinski received verbal consensus from Council to ask Walker Parking Consultants to come to the Beach and give an informal presentation first and perhaps a more in-depth one later to further explain the approach, funding and cost of project. The consultants have been involved in building many structures of this nature throughout the country. The idea is to make the parking facility look like a Key West-style hotel. There are similar facilities in Miami and Punta Gorda.
One should keep in mind this is not a short-term solution for the traffic and parking issues on the island. But, it could serve as a long-term idea.
Short-term thinking would be to reduce the amount of cars traveling to and on the island. Town Manager Terry Stewart said making LeeTran services to and from the Beach free of charge should alleviate the burden on traffic.
"It's the County's responsibility. Somebody there should be seeing that this is one of the ways to mitigate what's happening out there on the island," he said.