Feature: East Corkscrew Road Needs Improvement, Now!

Estero residents who live along east Corkscrew Road say they must take uncomfortable risks daily just to exit their communities and head toward town.

“Getting out between 7 and 9 in the morning and then about 3 to 6 p.m. when school’s out, it’s very difficult,” states Lou Frattarelli, a resident of The Preserve at Corkscrew and a member of the East Corkscrew Alliance (ECA). “You’re basically trying to dart between traffic and taking a risk.”

How bad is it?

According to the 2017 Village of Estero Area-Wide Traffic Study conducted by Kimley Horn, Corkscrew Road is nearing failure east of Interstate 75. The segment from Ben Hill Griffin Parkway to Alico Road is currently operating at an estimated 86-to-100-percent of capacity during the afternoon peak hour and is projected to be at 183 percent of capacity by 2027 without some form of improvement. This is primarily due to four new residential communities east of Estero’s boundaries which have been recently approved by Lee County or are pending approval: Wild Blue, The Place at Corkscrew, Verdana and Pepperland Ranch. A fifth community under county jurisdiction, Corkscrew Shores, has been under construction for four years and is currently adding more vehicles each month. A sixth community, Corkscrew Crossing, is currently going through the Village’s zoning process. Together, these new communities would nearly double the number of people living along this segment of Corkscrew Road by 2027.

A recently installed traffic signal at the entrance to Bella Terra is helping residents of this large neighborhood (1,899 doors) exit their community, but a major traffic increase will be coming from the east within the next five years.“Infrastructure improvements are not keeping pace with approved developments,” said ECCL Transportation Director Bob King. “It’s the cart in front of the horse.”

What’s coming to the east?

Construction on 1,325 residences in The Place at Corkscrew began in April 2017, and the builder estimates completion by June 2024. Wild Blue has been approved to build 1,000 units, but no start date has been set. Verdana is in the approval process to build 1,460 residences; it is anticipated construction will begin in 2018 and run through 2028. Pepperland Ranch is in the development order process with plans to build 700 units by the end of 2019. Construction of 648 units began in Corkscrew Shores in November 2013 with buildout anticipated by 2020. Within Estero’s boundaries, Corkscrew Crossing is seeking approval to build 640 residences.

The total number of new units comes to 5,125. Within 10 years, total traffic on east Corkscrew Road is estimated to become 105,383 trips per day. In addition to residential developments, Lee County has approved a Comprehensive Plan amendment allowing the proposed 1,804-acre Troyer Brothers Mine to be added to the existing Future Limerock Mining Overlay within the Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area (DR/GR) which surrounds east Corkscrew Road. Another proposed mine, Old Corkscrew Plantation, is seeking to mine 1,837 of its 4,200 acres. Both mines would exit on State Road 82, but trucks could choose to travel via Alico Road or Corkscrew Road from there, generating about 1,900 truck trips per day per mine.

What about Interstate 75 backups?

Many of the current 57,919 daily trips on east Corkscrew Road are leading to and from the I-75 interchange, which is currently failing to handle traffic at peak hours. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently announced plans for interim improvements at the Corkscrew Road interchange with construction to begin in spring 2019.

Interim improvements include an additional turn lane for both northbound and southbound I-75, along with merge lane extensions and lighting improvements. These interim improvements are expected to bring the I-75 interchange to an acceptable level of service through 2029. Additionally, a traffic signal and frontage road at the entrance to Lowe’s is likely be installed concurrently with I-75 interchange improvements, allowing safer egress for residents of Corkscrew Woodlands and the Island Club, said Village Manager Steve Sarkozy.

What is Lee County doing?

Although the western end of Corkscrew Road is within the Village of Estero, the entire road is owned and maintained by Lee County. The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has recognized traffic safety issues in this area and has a plan to widen Corkscrew Road to four lanes from Ben Hill Griffin Parkway to Alico Road. However, design and construction are currently scheduled for the time period of 2021 to 2030 — four to 14 years from now. Additionally, no source of funding has been identified for this project estimated to cost $76.4 million.

As part of Lee County’s Environmental Enhancement and Preservation Overlay Study (aka. “Corkscrew Road Study”), the proportionate share funding for road improvement costs is being determined for Wild Blue, The Place, Verdana and Pepperland Ranch. However, it is unlikely these developers will be assessed costs covering the entire $76.4 million needed.

The County has not yet released the full findings from its study. However, it is notable that Lee County reduced its building impact fees by 55 percent during the recession of 2007-08 in an effort to stimulate the economy and has never brought them back to pre-recession levels. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is scheduled to consider impact fee funding levels during its March 6 meeting. If raised to the 100 percent collection level, impact fees for the 4,485 units planned on east Corkscrew Road could generate $47.8 million.

The BOCC also is considering Growth Increment Funding (GIF), which Commissioner Larry Kiker said could generate $50 million for the Corkscrew Road widening project. Other funding sources could include local option gas tax revenue and excess toll revenue.

What Can Estero Do?

Although Corkscrew Road is maintained by the county, more than 11,000 Estero residents currently live along the corridor from Ben Hill Griffin Road to Bella Terra Boulevard.

During its October 2017 monthly membership meeting, the ECCL passed a resolution asking the Estero Village Council to authorize a study to determine the safest and most cost-effective method to improve traffic congestion on east Corkscrew Road within the Village boundaries, as soon as possible. Estero residents living in the large communities along the south side of Corkscrew Road are already experiencing major egress issues, and the problem is rapidly getting worse.

“When you four-lane the road, you have not helped them because now they have to go across four lanes,” said King. “The four-laning alone is not the complete answer. It must be combined with another form of control to provide safe egress.”

The ECCL resolution requests that Village Council study a series of roundabouts as a way to calm traffic, increase roadway capacity, divert some truck traffic and improve the safety of egress from communities on the south side of Corkscrew Road. ECCL research, including input from local traffic safety engineers, suggests four possible locations for roundabouts: at the entrances to Corkscrew Shores, The Preserve at Corkscrew and Wildcat Run, and at Stoneybrook Golf Drive, which is the main entrance to Pinewoods Elementary School. Lee County recently added plans to extend the holding lane for cars turning into Pinewoods Elementary from westbound Corkscrew Road as part of the County’s Capital Improvement Program.

The Lee County MPO is currently considering roundabout technology elsewhere in the county and has funded a study to evaluate 18 intersections in the Fort Myers area. Using the estimated cost for a roundabout in the MPO report as a basis, the probable cost per roundabout on Corkscrew Road would be about $750,000, making total cost for four roundabouts an estimated $3 million. The cost is not significantly more than installation of traditional stoplight intersections, King noted. Roundabouts statistically produce fewer crashes because they offer fewer potential conflict points.

Along with roundabouts, the Village could advocate for a “complete streets” concept by adding improvements like pedestrian and bike paths, landscaping and sound barriers.

Are there other options?

The ECCL resolution asks the Village to commission a study including the feasibility of roundabouts, but it does not limit the scope for studying other solutions. The emphasis is on finding the safest way to handle increasing traffic on east Corkscrew Road in the most cost-effective manner and in the shortest timeframe. Additionally, the ECCL Transportation Director has met with Lee DOT officials in hopes of getting road improvements expedited.

“The County is willing to hear what we have to say,” added Frattarelli. “If we keep up the pressure on the commissioners, the schedule may be moved up.”

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