Estero’s No. 1 Transportation Problem
The Interstate 75 interchange at Corkscrew Road is failing to adequately handle traffic during peak hours of usage. As Estero’s only connection to the interstate highway system, this interchange is a source of continual aggravation as traffic routinely backs up, causing delays and safety concerns. In the long-term, this interchange will need to be rebuilt; however, short-term improvements should be happening within three-to-five years.
In 2009, Lee County worked with the state to construct the Estero Parkway overpass, relieving the Corkscrew/I-75 interchange of about 10,000 vehicles per day. However, this has proved insufficient to alleviate congestion at the interchange as Estero’s population growth and commercial development continue at rapid pace.
A recent Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) analysis gave this interchange an “F” level of service during peak-hour usage. Corkscrew Road fails to provide acceptable traffic flow during the morning rush of vehicles coming from eastern Estero, with heavy traffic traveling westbound on Corkscrew Road to southbound I-75 toward Naples. Similarly, in the afternoon, the interchange fails to meet the demands of heavy traffic traveling eastbound on Corkscrew Road entering the northbound I-75 ramp toward Fort Myers.
When this interchange is not functioning properly, it creates congestion and safety issues for Estero residents, as well as for those who visit Estero and do business in our community, including thousands of shoppers at Estero’s large, regional malls.
Ultimately, the interchange needs to be completely rebuilt. The approaches to the interchange on Corkscrew Road need to be six lanes, in addition to necessary turn lanes, similar to the way the Alico Road/I-75 interchange was reconstructed a few years ago. This solution would require the existing I-75 bridge over Corkscrew to be torn down and a new, wider bridge to be constructed.
The bad news is this improvement is not in the county’s plans anytime soon. Due to the shortage of state and federal transportation funds, Lee County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has not included the Corkscrew/I-75 interchange in its 2040 Plan, which prioritizes funding for transportation projects. If this doesn’t change, no funding for the ultimate improvement of this interchange will be available until after 2040 — 23 years from now.
The good news is the FDOT interchange analysis identified interim improvements which could be applied as early as 2020 to 2022. These changes involve constructing one additional turn lane on Corkscrew Road under the I-75 bridge in both directions. This short-term fix is projected to extend the acceptable level of service for the interchange through 2029.
Constructing an additional turn lane for both northbound and southbound I-75 will not require any changes to the current I-75 overpass bridge. Design for the interim improvements has already begun, and construction likely will be included in the current, five-year FDOT Works Program. The interim fix of this interchange should significantly improve access to I-75 during peak hours of travel.