On August 12, the City of LaBelle Commissioners held a public meeting with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Gwen Pipkin, DOT Project Manager, introduced her staff at the beginning of the meeting.
In February 2008, FDOT began conducting a Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study for improvements to S.R. 29 in Glades and Hendry counties. The project will span an area of roadway that is approximately 15 miles along S.R. 29 from C.R. 80A (Cowboy Way) northward to U.S. 27. The proposed roadway improvement consists of increasing capacity on S.R. 29. FDOT evaluated the widening of the existing two-lane undivided segment of S.R. 29 to four lanes, and studied an alternative corridor(s) that bypasses downtown LaBelle.
The objective of the PD&E Study is to provide necessary data for FDOT to determine a decision on the type, design, and location of improvements to S.R. 29 for acceptance by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The expansion of S.R. 29 from Cowboy Way to U.S. 27 is consistent with Glades and Hendry counties adopted Growth Management Plans. Due to ongoing population and employment growth in and around the area, this project is deemed necessary. In order to improve the current transportation network due to this growth, action must be taken to continue providing safe and efficient transportation routes.
Marty Peate from the PD&E team, explained that there are four sequential steps to the PD&E Study including project development and environment, design and permitting, purchase of right of way property followed by construction. According to the project manager, they are currently at the closing of the first step (PD&E Study) and moving on to the beginning of the design phase.
After public comments including concerns over the possibility of the bridge not being functional during actual construction, Mr. Peate said it was determined that there may be a need for two moveable bridge structures crossing the river. While one bridge would be under construction, the other could still be used for travel.
There are currently two bridge design options being studied. Each involves constructing one-way pair bridges across the Caloosahatchee River in LaBelle just north of downtown. One would place the span parallel to each other, and the second would have one span swing out with a slightly curved path. Each option has Main Street becoming a two lane southbound one-way road and Bridge Street becoming a two lane northbound one-way road. This would avoid having to demolish any historical buildings in the downtown area along with improving traffic operations, access, mobility and safety along SR29.
Given the amount of space on each road, there are options for widened sidewalks, bike lanes or parallel parking spaces. Mr. Peate reiterated that every effort will be made to have a minimal impact on the existing oak canopies which LaBelle is very well known for.
Project representatives were met with some concerns from both the board and the audience. Commissioner Wilkins questioned whether or not “the one-way pairs will negatively affect downtown businesses” since traffic would only be flowing in one direction on each side of the area. Mr. Peate noted that the cross-streets would still be open to vehicular and foot traffic.
A citizen from the audience addressed the issue of what the timeline for this project looked like – when would it start and finish? It was explained that projects such as this take a great deal of time. Even if every single item lined up perfectly, one should expect it to take a minimum of eight years. If was noted that this project is high on FDOT’s priority list and that more information will be available at the upcoming workshop this fall.
City Finance Director Ron Zimmerly stated that “the city is not concerned about the cost of the project, but more about the future development of the city.”
Community members also voiced concerns regarding the impact of this project to the downtown’s River Walk District, the potential loss of river views and Edward A. Upthegrove Elementary School’s bus route. Although he did voice some of these same concerns, Commissioner Akin stated that “parking in downtown is a problem, and this project could help both consumers and business owners.”
According to the study’s website, “the S.R. 29 PD&E Study process will provide many opportunities for the public to comment on the proposed improvements, including public meetings, stakeholder meetings, and a project website. Project information and documents will be uploaded to the project website for review when they become available.”
If you have any questions or comments about the project, please visit www.sr29labelle.com for updated information. All inquiries can be submitted through an online form.