Bicycle and Walking Paths Along the Seminole Railway Through Estero.
If You Want Them Make Your Views Known!
In March 2021, the Lee County MPO, in partnership with the City of Bonita Springs and the Village of Estero, commissioned a consultant team to conduct a study to analyze the long-term feasibility of a public multi-use trail within the Seminole Gulf Railway (SGLR) corridor south of Alico Road or in the adjacent surrounding areas. Funded by a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Sun Trail Program, the study also had local matches from the City of Bonita Springs and the Village of Estero.
Approximately 100 people attended the June 2nd public meeting by Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) at the Estero Recreational Center. The meeting was held to seek public input on the Rail-Trail Feasibility Study that is currently underway. An overview of the project’s scope, charter, and sponsors was presented during the meeting
In addition to members of the public from Estero and Bonita Springs, others present included Jim Ward from the Estero Village Council, David Willems, Estero’s Director of Public Works, and two Councilors from Bonita Springs.
Three options were presented as follows:
1. Remove the railway line, and use the space for walking and biking paths.
The cost estimates provided only focused on planning and construction costs. They did not estimate the acquisition costs, which will be significant and complex to negotiate. The MPO estimate of construction costs assumes using the existing rail bed as the base structure for the bike trail. Option 1 costs are for only construction per mile $4-6m. Option 2 is $7-10m. Option 3 is $13-18m. No costs of acquiring or leasing the land or for the inclusion of bridges over intersections etc are included at this time. See the full presentation for more details.
ECCL’s Tony Carangelo, together with the Safety and Transportation team have also been collecting information and assessing the options for a Rail and/or bike & pedestrian pathway along the railway since August 2021. Their focus was on determining the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
A summary of the views expressed included:
Options 1 & 2
Options 1 and 2 had far more appeal because of their more secluded and scenic route off existing highways. Examples of other solutions were discussed where similar options were used.
Option 3 (using the existing road structure) suffers from severe safety issues and would not be conducive for walkers or bikers with young children. Air pollution from passing vehicles would also be a concern, especially along the selected busy roads.
Option 2 Benefits
Many of those who commented on the options pointed out the future benefits of option 2, which involves keeping the railway line in place:
- It is a form of transport that would reduce vehicle traffic and is environmentally friendly. It is widely used by the public in Europe and California and should not be discounted.
- Option 2 would help ensure that young teachers, lecturers, healthcare workers, police, and firefighters are not lost to these communities because they cannot afford to live there. It would allow workers living in less costly parts of Lee County to travel on public transport to the more expensive housing areas in Estero and Bonita Springs. It should be considered in addition to workforce-housing solutions.
- The railway would become a tourist attraction and could be linked to the development of the 65 acres of land alongside the Estero River, which will provide walking paths and, ultimately, restaurants and other attractions for residents and visitors.
- Option 2 is visionary, promotes healthy living, and engages the community.
A Call to Action for local and Lee County government officials
If you are keen to see this proposal become a reality in your lifetime, let your local Village Councilmembers and Lee County Commissioners know your feelings.
The ECCL will collect the responses collected here and present them to appropriate officials.
Suntrail Bicycle and Walking Paths in EsteroRead or Edit the Petition
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Several in the audience commented on some potential difficulties operating the rail line, although they have been overcome elsewhere. Some residents raised concerns about the route passing through gated communities, such as security, pedestrian safety, golf course disruptions, etc. A suggestion was made to the MPO by ECCL representatives that they should look at the Charlotte, NC decision process to see how they arrived at a rail with a trial conclusion.
Several people at the meeting made it clear that while the rails’ vision to/with trails idea could take many years to become a reality, there were ways to shorten the time frame.
- Unless the public lets local and state government officials know they want such a facility put in place, there would be little incentive to “move the needle.”
- While the ultimate cost would be extremely high, private enterprises should be encouraged to invest in speeding the process.
- The walking/biking path amenity would spawn significant investment buy businesses along the route to cater to the many people who would use it.
- Information from similar initiatives indicates that 500,000 people use these routes per year.
A Call to Action
If you are keen to see this proposal become a reality in your lifetime, let your local Village Councilors and Lee County Commissioners know your feelings.
The ECCL will collect the information and submit it to the appropriate government officials to avoid overloading their emails.