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Fort Myers Beach businesses buckle down for Segment 2's concrete barrier

December 20, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The one-lane flagging at Lovers Lane is over, but for some, the struggles brought on by Segment 2 of the Estero Boulevard project has just begun.

County crews finished the tight segment between Lovers Lane and the Red Coconut RV Park Friday, ending two weeks of painful traffic jams as drivers waited their turn to be flagged through. According to an email from Kaye Molnar, spokeswoman for the project, two-way traffic will be maintained through the holidays, and crews won't be working the holiday weekends.

But sometime in the first few months of 2018, the concrete barrier will be put into place, bringing with it complications.

"We all have January, February, March to make our money. For them to do this down the middle of Estero is a crime," said Fran Myers, owner of the Red Coconut.

Myers' clients, many of whom drive the "big rig" mobile homes, will have to be re-routed to reach her park.

The Red Coconut has property on the Gulf and the Bay; with the barrier going up, any mobile homes traveling from the south end of the island to the Gulfside will have to pass it and turn around somewhere.

Myers said she was told the RVs could turn around in Topps - but that's not a public parking lot.

If rigs want to leave the Red Coconut on the bayside and travel south, drivers will have to reroute onto a residential street, Shell Mound Avenue. These large vehicles won't be alone sharing the street.

The barrier will also conflict with the Fort Myers Beach Fire District's station on Voorhis. The district's first response vehicles will also be using Shell Mound to navigate south and circumvent the barrier.

Ron Martin, spokesman for the district, said the district doesn't expect significant impacts to response times.

"We have been working really closely with the town and county and the contractors involved to minimize any disruptions," he said.

It's not the district's first rodeo in dealing with the barrier. During Segment 1, the district altered its response routing based on which of its three stations could respond the easiest, not which was the closest, to offset challenges presented by the barrier. Martin said this system could be utilized again; the district also has an "alternative response vehicle" used to zip quickly to calls on the beach or nearby.

"We have been as proactive as we can. We've been looking at it for a few months," Martin said. "It's a necessary infrastructure update, and it's important to the town and county that emergency services have minimal impacts."

Molnar said the barrier is expected to go up in late January, but probably February. Before the barrier is installed, Molnar said crews will build the northbound lane's sidewalk and a travel lane to maintain two-lane traffic patterns.

Myers' troubles aren't just with navigation. The barrier will essentially cut off the beach-side customers from the park office and bay-side customers from easy access to the beach.

"How long will it be before tourists say they'll go somewhere else?" Myers said. "There are other beaches."

Other businesses in the same stretch will also be facing similar issues. Myers also owns the Gulf View Shops building, which houses Lin's Garden, Heidi's Bistro and Rachel's Nails. She said they were suffering from the one-lane situation in the last few weeks and will continue to face hardship with the barrier. Junkanoos on the Beach, on the other side of Estero, will also face the barrier.

Neil Van Vliet, Junkanoo's general manager, said the one-way lane cut his lunchtime crowd in half.

"It hurts, no doubt about that," he said.

His concern for the barrier wall is customers in the north-bound lane of Estero Boulevard being able to turn left into his establishment - but also the traffic back up that left-turn will cause.

"If they can't turn, and no body will let them in, it blocks traffic for miles," he said.

Myers said she understand the project needs to happen, but she's frustrated that the part of the project which requires the barrier - the center lane storm drain - is being done now as season reaches its peak, rather than in the slower summer season.

The county is also placing an outfall on Donora Boulevard to drain the center storm drain from Estero. The outfall will run on the south side of the Red Coconut's property, which is has leased from the Town of Fort Myers Beach for parking. When construction for the outfall begins, Myers said she's not sure where to put her customers while that section is torn up. Donora's waterline construction update started last week on the south side of the road.

"I get that they have to do that, but why did you go do the residential streets (before) but in February and March you decide to come down the commercial street with the fire department?" she said.

Jefferson Street's waterline portion is finished already and Eucalyptus Court's storm drain is almost finished. Jefferson's stormwater outfall is in upcoming construction.

Molnar said the county started on Eucalyptus Court first because it was a shorter outfall and the town had already approved this outfall, making it easier to start work. Donora was included in the second set of Segment 2 outfalls, which was approved by council at a later time than Eucalyptus.

"I know the Red Coconut was really concerned," Molnar said. "We've met with them, we've talked to them. We'll do what we can to accommodate them on Estero and also Donora."

Before the barrier can go up - and work be done on the center lane storm drain - the outfalls must be built, Molnar said. The at least one outfall has to be ready so when the center lane drain is put in place, any incoming stormwater has somewhere go. The timeline for Donora's outfall to be finished is February or March, Molnar said.

The first section of the barrier will run just from Lovers Lane to Voorhis Street. Molnar said the county agreed not to block Voorhis to accommodate the fire district.

"Once the road is regraded, then we have to put in barrier wall, and it's hard to stay how long it will be there," Molnar said. "It's likely it will show up before season's over."

Molnar said it can be hard to say how certain parts of the project will last as things could change in a moment's notice. The county continues to work on ways to improve the project for the public, as well as fix design issues such as the pavers used in the center lane.

"We're working on ways to work and live together," Molnar said.

Segement 2's projected completion date is fall 2018.



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