Where do we grow from here? The future of your commute

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Traffic nightmares happen every day across Southwest Florida and there may be no end in sight to the long commutes.

“I normally leave no later than 10 minutes to 7,” said Mary Vogt of Cape Coral, who travels Monday through Friday to her office just over 10 miles from her home.

Vogt has to leave 70 minutes early to prevent being late.

“My family thinks I’m crazy,” said Vogt. “It’s bumper to bumper just about the whole way.”

Vogt says she risks more than doubling her commute time if she leaves any later. But her story isn’t unique, she’s just one of thousands of commuters who hit the road every morning and sit in traffic throughout Southwest Florida.

Donald Scott is the executive director of the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization. The group looks at roadways across the area and tries to figure out what needs the most improvement. Scott says growing pains are expected as more people call Lee County home.

“We’re at about 658,000 right now,” said Scott. “More population is going to bring more trips.”

The solutions to manage the traffic aren’t easy. An intricate highway system with toll roads and freeways isn’t an option for Southwest Florida. Not just in the near future, but even in the long term.

Zachary Burch, a communications manager for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), says the department is “Working with what we have available. We don’t have 10 existing interstates that we can do connections to like in Orlando where they have I-4 and I-75, and 275.”

Burch says systems like that cost billions of dollars, and that’s money the state doesn’t have.

FDOT wants to connect the City of Cape Coral to I-75, but the federal government won’t allow it. That’s because they own the highway and have strict rules when new ramps can be built.

“One of the neighboring interstate exits has to be failing,” said Burch, meaning too many cars are using the exit.

One example would be the new Southwest Florida International Airport direct connect. Burch says the reason why the new exit ramp is so long, is because the federal government wouldn’t let the department move it, since it is not failing. So, FDOT had to build a road to the exit just off the highway in order to follow federal guidelines.

Another problem is the lack of popularity when it comes to flyovers, which the state says helps drivers avoid busy intersections altogether. The dismissal of projects like that can cause more traffic nightmares and be bad for business.

“If you have a situation where there’s a really busy intersection and people are waiting for a long time to get through it, they will avoid it if possible,” said Burch.

However, not every project is hitting a red light. Millions of dollars are being spent at growing and repairing current roads.

“Burnt Store Road towards the north in Charlotte County, Homestead in Lehigh,” are just some of the roads under construction said Scott.

However for Vogt, it’s just about getting to work on time and it doesn’t seem like she’ll be able to sleep in anytime soon.

“Every morning, it’s the same way,” said Vogt. “Once seasons hits, it’s going to be even worse. Definitely.”

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