LaBelle residents got to study the latest versions of Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) plans for SR 29 through town at a public information workshop Thursday, November 3, at LaBelle Civic Center. That evening the public interacted with FDOT personnel to become familiar with, and to understand, the implications for SR 29 local traffic and access. The entire study began in 2008.
As part of the 2.6 mile long Project and Development (PD&E) study, FDOT presented two options for realignment and four-laning of SR 29 from Cowboy Way to just north of CR 731(Whidden Road).
FDOT Project Manager Gwen Pipkin said FDOT has been working on these plans for years. She said that FDOT will be taking comments from the workshop until November 14.
Both plans call for a pair of one-way roads – Bridge Street northbound, Main Street southbound – from Cowboy Way to CR 731 (Whidden Road). A grassy median will be added between them on the north side of the bridge(s)
According to FDOT information, no significant environmental effects are expected as a result of this proposed construction.
There are two ideas for Downtown Bridge Street
• Two 11-foot travel lanes; a 13 foot sidewalk on both sides or
• Two 11-foot travel lanes with a 7 foot buffered bike lane on the east and 12-foot walkway on the west
There will be parking on one side of Bridge Street
For Main Street:
• Two 11-foot travel lanes, a tree buffer and 10 foot sidewalks on both sides or
• Two 11-foot travel lanes, a tree buffer, 10 foot sidewalk on the east with 6-foot sidewalk and 6-foot bike lane on the west.
All the above plans for both roads can be done within the existing rights-of-way.
The existing two-lane bascule bridge on Bridge Street would be replaced and a second bascule bridge would be built for the southbound lanes on Main Street.
Both bridges would begin at the northern ends of Main and Bridge Streets
A traffic signal would remain at Cowboy Way to accommodate all lanes.
On the north side of the river, Main and Bridge Street will converge at different places. In Plan 1, the roads come together
Cleanup will be needed for the Brownfield area at Handy North gas station.
Also features a pair of two-lane, one-way streets – two northbound lanes on Bridge; two southbound lanes on Main.
The existing bascule bridge on Bridge Street will be replaced and a second one will be constructed to serve southbound traffic on Main Street.
Main Street will veer to the east just north of Curry Street in town, then veer east of Barron Library and across the river.
There will be a roundabout at Cowboy Way.
The north- and southbound lanes rejoin just on the north side of the river.
No Build Alternative
This plan would require no changes to the roadways and only routine maintenance. However, it could cost more to postpone four-laning the roadway.
For many people the roundabout at Cowboy Way in Plan 2 is reason for concern. County Commissioner Darrell Harris is one who questions the roundabout. Ms. Pipkin referred to a similar roundabout constructed in Polk County which caused similar fears. She said the structure has since been accepted and appreciated by area residents and truckers because it slows big semis down, but doesn’t stop them. She added that the structures are very safe and assured people that the structures can handle even the biggest semi trucks.
Commissioner Harris felt that four-laning SR 29 from Immokalee to Cowboy Way – also in the planning stages – should be completed first.
Commissioner Harris said that the completion of Helms Road, to be completed at the end of 2017, would fit well into four-laning SR 29 since Helms Road should siphon off traffic coming north from Immokalee and Felda heading west from SR 80 (much of it Walmart traffic). However, it would not mitigate eastbound traffic.
FDOT worked with local officials to determine the alternate routes and Ms. Pipkin said they were designed to benefit local business, to improve walkability in the town, to slow traffic and preserve LaBelle’s pride – its oaks.
Currently, the project is still in the planning stages. Analysis of the two plans will continue through next April with selection anticipated at that time, when a public hearing will be scheduled. Finalization of documents is to begin after that public hearing and commence till the end of July when the project location and design concept are to be accepted.
FDOT will also consider sidewalks and landscape at the appropriate time.
Please note that no construction money has been allotted.
After carefully scrutinizing the plans, Raj Maraj and his wife, who own a home off Main Street, concluded that Plan #2 suited them best even though it will affect access to their property. They determined that it would also impact the fewest residents.
Members of the LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation (LDRC) have been working toward improving all aspects of the downtown area for years. The LDRC led the way on the Fort Thompson Avenue renovation and puts on social/community events like Nite on the Town and the Wharf Walk that generate interest in downtown. Members of the board attended the workshop and related that the board prefers Plan 2 for several reasons, including its traffic pattern, preservation of the wharf, access and walkability. Plan 2 also preserves one of its most beautiful assets, its trees.
For more information and to comment, please go to www.sr80labelle.com.