Cape Coral Bridge redesign concepts include more lanes, multi-use path

Driving Across Midpoint Bridge from Cape Coral, FL during sunset
Driving Across Midpoint Bridge from Cape Coral, FL during sunset

Cape Coral Bridge redesign concepts include more lanes, multi-use path

Design elements for a new bridge over the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers to Cape Coral may include wider lanes, enhanced safety measures and a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle crossing but at a price already steep and likely to go higher. Here’s the latest.

Cape Coral Bridge past design life

Transportation Director Randy Cerchie briefed county commissioners Tuesday on concepts being considered in replacing one span of the Cape bridge and expanding the other.

It was an early effort to begin public discussion about how to replace a bridge originally built in the early 1960s as a two-lane crossing with one lane heading west to Cape Coral and the other coming east from the Cape to south Fort Myers. A two-lane span was added in 1989. Since then, each crossing has carried two lanes of traffic in one direction.

Up for consideration is an estimated $185 million project to replace the 58-year old westbound bridge leading to Cape Coral that opened in 1964 and add an eastbound span. Plans call for a 2030 completion date.

Cape Coral traffic:Tips from Our Man Dan

From earlier:Cape Coral Bridge replacement to finish by 2030; Midpoint crossing next

Related:5 things to know about increasing toll costs for Lee County bridges

The westbound bridge is eight years past its design life and is considered dangerous because its road shoulders are narrow.

The eastbound bridge built in 1989 is considered in good condition and has another 43 years in its projected life span, county officials said.

“We’re very early in the design stage. We are some 40 days into a four-year design,” Cerchie said. “We will seek input from stakeholders here in the next month.”

The plan calls for replacing the westbound span with a three-lane crossing while improving the intersection of Del Prado Boulevard and Cape Coral Parkway to McGregor Boulevard, a distance of 2.3 miles.

Cape bike paths, move to electronic tolls

The job with include work to improve approaches to the bridge, in particular through a new intersection at Del Prado Boulevard and Cape Coral Parkway with improved traffic flow patterns and additional lanes to reduce the chance of crashes. Intersections will also be improved on the eastern side of the river at McGregor Boulevard.

A pedestrian bridge, accessible through easy-to-walk ramps compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, would make crossing the roads easier, but would boost the cost by $1.8 million.

Toll plazas will be consigned to the scrap heap of history. They will be replaced by overhead toll gantries. Replacing buildings with sensors is part the county’s move to electronic tolling. Tolls will help pay for the bridge.

Safety concerns for Cape Coral Bridge

Bridge work will also include a renewed emphasis on traffic safety. Crashes have become common due to both congestion that makes sudden stops especially dangerous and drivers weaving through traffic to save a few minutes in crossing.

During a five-year period ending in 2018, the county recorded 334 crashes on the Cape Coral Bridge, 43 involving injuries and 99 happening during reduced visibility nighttime hours. A lot of the crashes were rear-end collisions.

Improved traffic engineering standards in the decades since the bridge was built will help.

The goal is to work toward what is termed a Vision Zero Fatality and Serious Injury Goal, a concept created by the Institute of Traffic Engineers. Vision Zero is based on the idea that eliminating deadly crashes and serious injuries should be a goal of design and construction.

Work on Cape Coral Bridge just starting

County officials caution that talk of what the bridge will look like is more about floating ideas than making decisions at this point.

“These are all concepts, nothing cut in stone, and it won’t be for quite a while,” said Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais during the briefing for commissioners. “It is going to take four years. Everything that you’re seeing now is all concept with lots of analysis to take place.”

There is a long list of tasks that must be performed before work begins. The process will consider environmental issues, potential disturbance of archeological and historical artifacts, and protecting water quality.

The impact of construction on protected species and fish habitats also must be considered as the project moves toward construction, Cerchie said.

Cerchie noted that new technologies could improve the appearance of the bridge because design and engineering breakthroughs can require fewer pilings holding up the bridge.

While the old-school horizontal spans that link to create the bridge currently run to 72 or 96 feet, modern technology can double the distance.

“If we utilize today’s higher strength materials we can make the beam length 144 feet, and 192 feet on the center span and skip every other pier location,” Cerchie said. “We’d save 17 piers and all the piles being driven down (into the riverbed.)”

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