August 18, 2014 – FDOT currently has a $1 million federally funded agreement with a transportation engineering/planning company, to conduct a Project Development & Environmental (PD&E) study of the Bonita Beach Road U.S. 41 intersection for future growth. One day after the Bonita Springs City Council voted 5-2 to reject the PD&E study that would have included an overpass option at U.S. 41 and Bonita Beach Road, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) put the study on hold. FDOT’s District 1 Secretary, Billy Hattaway said, “the study must wait until the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) votes at its August 22, 2014 meeting whether to continue the study.” The MPO has the final say on whether to continue with the study or not.
While the intersection of a Lee County road (Bonita Beach Road) with a state road (U.S. 41), is located in Bonita Springs, it also serves regional travel for citizens and visitors to Lee and Collier Counties, hence the MPO’s involvement. While the Chamber is not in support of a flyover, we are in support of conducting a study to facilitate proper planning and future enhancements for our roadways. The PD&E study, will aid in future management and a safety plan for the good of our entire region, of the U.S. 41/Bonita Beach Road intersection.
FDOT follows federal requirements for PD&E studies in order to qualify for federal funding of all project phases, through and including construction. As a condition of those requirements, FDOT cannot eliminate potential alternatives prior to completion of the study. The language below comes directly out of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1502 – Environmental Impact Statement.
“(f) Agencies shall not commit resources prejudicing selection of alternatives before making a final decision.”
In essence, FDOT is not permitted to exclude options prior to completion of a study. It is unfortunate that there is a perception that the flyover is “mandatory,” when in fact it is not mandatory, it just cannot be excluded at this early stage. If we don’t complete the study it will cost tax payers potentially millions of dollars in the long run on top of forfeiting the current $1M grant.
The MPO had this study identified first in their Long Range Transportation Plan and more recently established the study of this intersection as priority for funding in 2011, which is why FDOT programmed the current study. Historically, the City of Bonita Springs and the Lee County MPO have been working in tandem since 2003 to prioritize this study at the request of prior City Councils.
The plan will help the City understand the type of infrastructure needed to withstand the amount of growth projected for the area and plan accordingly. According to current FDOT data, 40,000 vehicles travel through the intersection per day.
Initial data has already been collected. By seizing this opportunity to take advantage of $1 million federally funded study, we will be equipped with the vital data needed to create a successful plan for our region’s anticipated growth.