Recent information on the Burnt Store Road widening grant issue as reported in the Fort Myers News Press
Cape Coral’s City Council could soon draft a resolution urging the state not to send $2.8 million away from the county if the Burnt Store Road widening project is held up longer than expected by litigation.
City Manager John Szerlag suggested the resolution Thursday at a meeting of the Burnt Store Road Right-of-Way Committee. Councilman Kevin McGrail agreed it could be a good idea and said it wouldn’t hurt if Lee County commissioners did the same.
The county’s road-widening project is now in limbo as it awaits a judge’s verdict in an appeal of a circuit court ruling.
Last year, the county lost a pair of court rulings when Judge Keith Kyle sided with property owners, who argued the county must pay prices based on 2005 and 2006 real estate values — because that’s when officials announced plans to expand the road, effectively preventing the owners from selling or building on their land.
The rulings have doubled the estimated amount the county would have to spend to purchase land for the project, which stretches from Ceitus Parkway to Van Buren Parkway, to more than $14 million.
Sarah Clarke, project manager for the Lee County Department of Transportation, said the county is in the midst of the condemnation process on five parcels of land and is holding off on another 32 parcels until the appeals court issues its ruling, expected in 12 to 15 months.
It’s expected to take another 9-12 months to acquire the properties through eminent domain, giving the county as little as three months to start construction before it loses a $2.8 million grant.
But Szerlag wondered whether the state would be willing to acknowledge the “extenuating circumstances” of the situation and hold onto the money.
Clarke said it’s possible, but the state typically finds another project that can use the money that year because it doesn’t like to roll funding to the next fiscal year.
“They may work with us and allow it to roll over, but there’s no guarantees,” she said.
On Monday, county commissioners considered the possibility of redesigning the project so it could forge ahead without waiting for the appeals process. But commissioners decided to stick with the plan of creating a six-lane thoroughfare.
The redesign would have cost an estimated $2 million and would not have allowed the county to keep a two-lane frontage road that would allow access for property owners to the west.
Without the frontage road, property owners would enter and exit directly onto the new road, thereby slowing traffic and making the corridor less of an expressway.
McGrail said commissioners made the right decision Monday.
“The most prudent way to move this forward would be to wait with great anticipation — but wait — because if we spend $2 million and try to redesign and we win that appeals process, that’s $2 million that’s pretty much wasted,” he said.
McGrail said the roadway will be an important emergency exit for residents of the western edge of the city as well as Pine Island. It will also serve as a commercial corridor in the future, he said.
In any case, he said, the appeals court ruling could have far-reaching effects.
“The ramifications of this ruling reach out far beyond Burnt Store Road,” he said. “It reaches into every road project in the state of Florida and, if it’s held up in this state, many … projects across the country.”