Hendry OKs idea of new SR 80 frontage road

LABELLE — Officials of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) presented an elaborate PowerPoint plan depicting a future configuration plan for State Road 80 from the Lee County line east to West Cowboy Way in LaBelle that includes a new frontage road.

Members of the Hendry County Board of Commissioners were receptive to the presentation of what’s called the “SR 80 Corridor Development Plan” at their meeting on July 16. They unanimously approved moving toward the FDOT’s “Alternative Two” that calls for construction of a controlled access frontage road and a 12-foot-wide multi-use path along this portion of the major east-west corridor connecting Florida’s west coast to the interior and beyond.

The entire presentation is available online from a link on the county’s website, hendryfla.net.

The FDOT team conducted a public meeting Monday, June 24, with two dozen county residents attending, including Commissioners Darrell Harris and Michael Swindle, according to the staff report from Margaret Emblidge, Hendry County’s planning and community development chief.

County Administrator Jennifer Davis welcomed the FDOT officials who presented the plan, saying the purpose was to show commissioners how FDOT plans to improve the busy corridor for maximum safety and public convenience.

“The staff is recommending that the board direct (them) to draft Land Development Code amendments for Alternative Two that has the least impact to private property owners. This will require us to present a resolution in the future, depending on your direction tonight, and from there a couple of next steps.”

Ms. Davis went on to introduce Deborah Chesna, who works in FDOT’s District 1 in intermodal systems development. Also part of the team were J.P. Weesner, Jeremy Ashlock of Gresham Smith and Hendry Public Works Director Shane Parker.

Ms. Chesnah said, “We’re excited because this is the outcome of the study that we’ve been working on for a while now, because this is FDOT’s new approach to the way we look at the roadways,” explaining that FDOT officials now are “big on the link between land use and transportation, and this is Hendry County’s vision for this corridor,” so we are looking forward to obtaining your input.

Mr. Weesner then took over, stating a “sense of place has been established … this is a partnership between FDOT and Hendry on the Complete Streets policy, to look at the design of all state roads to serve the traffic and transportation systems for all ages and abilities, making them context-sensitive and requiring system of transportation design that considers land development patterns.

He said the plan for Hendry under FDOT’s Alternative Two calls for a new frontage road along SR 80 for the western approach into LaBelle, new network connections north, south, and east or west.

Commissioner Darrell Harris asked, “Do you have enough DOT land to do that without taking private property?”

“We have enough to add that frontage road,” Mr. Weesner said. “Where there’s an issue is where this has to come to meet a minimum distance for someone to make that turn in and access the frontage road. That’s where there might need to be some adjustment,” he said.

Commissioner Karson Turner said, “This is frightening to me,” regarding the additional turns motorists would have to make.

Chairman Mitchell Wills asked him about “the intersection you just put in on State Road 82 and Daniels? It just opened last week.”

Mr. Weesner answered, “I don’t know about 82.”

“Well, now I have to go through three red lights to get where I’m wanting to go,” Mr. Wills said, and he and Mr. Turner and others described the so-called “Michigan U-turn, a big joke in the entire state, where you always have to make a left to turn right. And this is you have to make a right turn to make a left.”

After more discussion, Commissioner Swindle made a motion that Commissioner Turner seconded to go with Alternative Two in the FDOT’s plan. Asked about the time frame for the work, Ms. Emblidge said, “I have no answer for that. It must be submitted to the HRTPO (Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization) and go through the PD&E phase (Project Development and Environmental study). The motion was passed.

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