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State Road 31 future looks at expansion

February 14, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

Regular drivers along now-rural State Road 31 and visitors to developing Babcock Ranch have a similar question: How will traffic issues already beginning to appear be addressed - and when?

It had become obvious to many that State Road 31's expansion to four, or even six lanes, is not only inevitable, but necessary.

Zachary Burch, government affairs and communications manager for the Florida Department of Transportation, said widening the road is coming, but every project has its own set of challenges.

For SR 31, those challenges are going to be environmental.

"In urban areas you have right-of-way issues and not taking advantage of certain areas. For 31, which is rural, you have environmental issues, impacts, and drainage," Burch said.

The FDOT does a Project Development and Environment study where the agency looks at if they need to widen the road and if so, what's the best way. Do you just have to add two more lanes next to the existing road or tear everything up and start fresh?

Then you have to look at environmental concerns, such as habitat, endangered species such as panthers or eagles. Are there wetlands to accommodate drainage, as there are more impervious surfaces? For 31, it's good question, considering that road has a tendency to flood in the rainy season.

Burch said that's part of the federal process they follow, which takes time. But then comes the decision to either build or not to build.

"Do we go to four lanes or six lanes? Will there be a median or not? Will there be sidewalks or bike lanes? This way we come out with one thing," Burch said. "We did that on State Road 82."

The owners of Babcock Ranch are doing their own PD&E study from Cook Brown Road in Charlotte County to County Road 78. The FDOT is doing two PD&Es for the area from State Road 78 to County 78, and from State Road 78 to State Road 80, including the bridge, Burch said.

Once all that is completed and the project is given the green light, it goes through the design stage, the land that's needed for the road is purchased, and construction takes place.

Burch said each phase takes about two years, meaning construction will not take place in the immediate future, but he did say things can be done to accelerate the process.

One complicating factor is the drawbridge over the Caloosahatchee.

"Much more is involved, including safety factors and environmental when you talk about the waterway. We're working toward making the necessary improvements to that roadway," Burch said.

As most of Babcock Ranch will be in Charlotte County, there is expected to be much work done beyond the 4.7 miles that Route 31 is in Lee County to accommodate the expected increase in traffic.

Even in DeSoto County in Arcadia, Burch said they are looking at a Route 31 Extension that bypasses Arcadia, since the road is also a freight route, with lots of citrus and mining trucks using the road daily.

In Arcadia, however, there are more elevated areas. In Charlotte and Lee counties, water and flooding have always been an issue.

"Drainage and water storage will be a big factor. The roadway out there doesn't have good drainage. That's something we're going to have to look at," Burch said.



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