For many years, Lehigh Acres was seen as last in line when it came to important road projects. That could be seen by riding around the city and seeing the crumbling roads and dangerous thoroughfares.
Slowly, the area started getting noticed, and this fiscal year, Lehigh Acres hit the jackpot with both Lee County and the state, with many major projects to take place, from the widening of State Road 82 to a huge influx of money to be sent on paving neglected streets.
"There is more coming to Lehigh this year than in any budget year in memory. It's truly a Happy New Year for them," said Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann.
Many major projects are set to take place, from the widening of State Road 82, to a huge influx of money to be sent on paving neglected streets.
State Road 82
Although it is a state budget item, the Board of County Commissioners have stressed the need to expand State Road 82 for years. The current two-lane road is deemed a killer highway, as nearly 30 people have been killed and more than 250 injured on that road since 2011.
That was enough for the state to move up the State Road 82 project by more than 20 years, said Mann, who led the demand for something to be done.
Rick Anglickis chairs the Citizen's Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which determines what projects are to be prioritized and how they get funded. He said the project has been on the books for years, and finally small improvements are being made at key intersections, thanks to funding by the state and county.
The expansion to six lanes will work in four stages so the state can "swallow the dollars it's going to take to make those improvements." The roadwork will begin at the Collier County line at one end and past Lee Boulevard on the other and meet in the middle.
"Serious construction will be done over the next five years. That is critically important. Even though we can only be advocates, it became a top priority and we kept the wheel squeaking and the state responded," Mann said.
The centerpiece of the expansion will be the first-of-its-kind for Florida, a continuous -flow intersection at SR82 and Daniels/Gunnery.
"The object is to not have red lights. You have to see it to believe it. It allows you to make left turns and right turns without stopping," Anglickis said. "I've seen the design, not the actual intersection at work. But it will be dynamic."
You can swatch how these intersections work by going to YouTube.
While it may not be a game-changer commercially, it will cut down substantially on lives lost.
"It will have a huge impact on human lives. That road is the killer of our community. Every month lives are lost on that road," Anglickis said.
When Lehigh Acres was created, the Lehigh Acres Development Corporation put in roads complete with water and sewers. After they went bankrupt and those who took it over went bankrupt, they eventually turned over the Lee County. Unfortunately, there are many shell roads in the area that have not been used for decades, resulting in their decay.
Lee County in the past has allocated $1 million to pave those roads but, with more than 1,500 miles of county maintained-roads throughout a 100 square-mile area, that was barely making a dent.
"There was never adequate funds set aside to do what was required. We kept falling behind," Mann said. "Even during the recession, we were able to put $1 million aside. It was like putting the finger in the dike."
Mann found some extra money to continually fund $5 million annually for the next five years to repave the roads.
"This will do miracle work for road resurfacing and maintenance of those roads and finally make some progress," Mann said.
Homestead Road expansion
There is a plan in the work to finally expand Homestead Road from Alabama Road to Sunrise Boulevard, which will go by the fire department and expand it to four lanes. Design work has already begun at that busy intersection, where Anglickis has his corner office.
The $26 million project will improve a dangerous section of road that was in the planning stages for 10 years. Again, the money wasn't there after the recession, but had become available now.
The Homestead project has been made a priority along with Burnt Store Road in Cape Coral and Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach.
"When you put everything together, this is the greatest leap forward for road improvements in Lehigh in anyone's memory," said Mann, a lifelong resident of Lee County.
Anglickis said the idea is to put an island in the road, which slows down traffic, and add on-street parking, leading land-owners to believe they are losing their property, which they aren't.
"This will put more buildings on the road instead of back off and will connect Taylor Lane with the shopping center," Anglickis said.
The Board of County Commissioners also approved a $600,000 sidewalk project down Leeland Heights to provide a safer walk to school for nearby children. There is Lehigh Middle and Elementary schools on either side.
Public transportation has improved, having been restored after the recession reduced service. A circulation route was added last year that goes to outlying areas to bring them to shopping centers in Fort Myers.
Mann said Lehigh bus service is the best it's ever been, but all the major road projects has taken bus service a little further back as a priority.
"It's important to the people who ride it. We're doing so much on highway construction that whatever we would do to bus routes pales in comparison," Mann said. "What we lost we have more than made up for."
Mann said the county has made improvements to the park system over the years. Impact fee money that hadn't been spent during the recession has been put into the parks system
Dog-walking parks have been created there, and there's even a cricket field now, the only one in Lee County.
"There's an international community that turns out there, and even young people come. They wanted a cricket field and they got one," Mann said. "I would compare Lehigh Acres parks to any parks in the state."