Southwest Florida’s traffic is worsening; are we the next Miami?

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A drive across Southwest Florida today is not what it was a decade ago. Roads are wider, they stretch to new places, and are occupied by far more cars than ever before.

WINK News Traffic Anchor Rachel Cox-Rosen talked to motorists. You can hear the frustration in their voices.

“This morning, we were just standstill traffic. Wasn’t moving,” recalled Jan Schneider from Ave Maria.

Elizabeth Perez of Lehigh Acres echoed Schneider’s comments, “Oh, my God, especially in this area of Colonial. It is hectic. It gets really hectic.”

Jeremy York lives in North Fort Myers. “I’m always stuck in traffic for an hour,” he said.

Also from Lehigh Acres, Andy Perez reflected, “Very chaotic.”

They are all correct and local experts agree, it’s gotten worse.

“We’re seeing the issues of congestion, of connectivity of aggressive driving across the board,” added Wayne Gaither, the Director of District One for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Donald Scott, Executive Director for the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization broke it down by the numbers.

“There’s about 27,000 crashes per year. So it’s about 75 a day,” said Scott. That’s in Lee County alone.

Hop on Alligator Alley and head to Florida’s east coast and you will see how much worse it could get.

Many feel the Miami area is the roadmap for the Gulf Coast’s future.

It worries FGCU Civil Engineering Professor Dr. Claude Villiers too.

“If we keep going, and if we don’t take some drastic measure, and if we don’t take it now, we’re going to be like Miami.” he said. He doesn’t just mean in terms of congestion.

I-95 in Miami is a monster highway with 11 lanes. There’s still traffic.

“So it’s the model more in the U.S. where we have traffic congestion, we widen the roadway. And it works. But it works for a short period of time,” said Villiers. “So, traffic is water flowing in a pipe. You create more, you widen the pipe. You make it larger diameter. Then you could have more water flowing. But that’s if the amount of water that was going to flow, going to stay just like it is, which we know that’s not the case.”

“You take a look at the Miami area, and one of the biggest problems they have is build-out; they don’t have room to really put in a lot of new roadways,” stated Gaither.

FDOT Director Gaither wants to avoid overbuilding here.

Apart from widening, Gaither said FDOT is trying to improve traffic flow at intersections with projects like the diverging diamond on Colonial Blvd. or the continuous flow intersection on State Road 82.

“You really can’t build your way out of congestion,” said Gaither. “The interstate can only go so wide, before we start running out of available space.”

But much of that is out of Gaither’s hands. FDOT is a statewide entity, implementing Governor Ron DeSantis’ vision.

Road Projects

According to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, there are six major roadway projects underway right now in Lee County. Half include widening or building new roadways.

Fourteen more are planned for the next 5 years, 13 of which include widening or building new roadways.

One big one, widening I-75 from 6 to 8 lanes from Golden Gate Parkway to Corkscrew Rd.

It’s a part of the Moving Florida Forward initiative announced by the Lieutenant Governor in Fort Myers in September.

Jeanette Núñez explained, “It will target areas of high traffic by enhancing interchanges, widening existing roadways, and increasing connectivity and efficiencies.”

But Dr. Villiers and other experts across the country said there’s a much more cost-effective and efficient solution for the congestion we’re seeing in Southwest Florida.

“The way to do it, is to really increase public transportation,” said the doctor.

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