The Second Bridge Group (SBG), a group of citizens formed to collect and share information about the proposed Bridge St. bypass in LaBelle, outlines some potential problems and solutions to them.
SBG Coordinator Leonard Enriquez shares the group's information in a Letter to the Editor as follows:
1. A) PROBLEMS: Downtown LaBelle (SR 29 from SR 80 along Bridge Street and Main Street up to the river) have several major problems that exist already as anybody can see by driving through the area.
A1) Bridge Street is already today jammed with tractor-trailer and dump truck traffic, often at high speed. This makes Bridge Street unwalkable and uncrossable even today. Unfortunately, and unbelievably, the FDOT "Dogleg Plan" keeps all the tractor-trailers and dump trucks on Bridge Street. This will worsen the existing problem that Bridge Street is so scary that it blocks pedestrians off from Ft. Thompson Avenue shops, from Barron Park and everything on the east side of Bridge Street.
A2) You would think FDOT has visited downtown LaBelle enough to know that zero tractor-trailers and zero dump trucks spend money on Ft. Thompson Avenue businesses ... just ask the business owners ... they will tell you that not one tractor-trailer has ever stopped in front of Charlie's Coffee Shop to buy a "latte." All these heavy trucks do is scare away pedestrians.
A3) Main Street today is a calm, quiet, oak canopy-designated neighborhood street that belongs to the city, not to FDOT. The FDOT Dogleg Plan will turn Main Street into a "fast and heavy" busy highway. At that point, we would have Ft. Thompson blocked off from the west (as well as from Bridge Street to the east). Pedestrians will find it even more difficult to get to the Ft. Thompson shops. It will also be very difficult to walk from Ft. Thompson Avenue to Barron Library, city docks and riverfront, since the very busy off-ramp to Main Street would have to be crossed on foot.
1. B) SOLUTIONS: FDOT's Dogleg Plan keeps in place today's Bridge Street problems and greatly damages Main Street. Instead, Second Bridge Group (SBG) proposes:
B1) Get the tractor-trailers and the dump trucks off of Bridge Street and send them to a bypass route river crossing upriver to the east, probably east of Port LaBelle. SBG feels that a bypass route such as Cowboy Way or Helms Road could be used as a bypass route for heavy trucks and possibly fast inter-city (through) traffic that has no interest in stopping to shop downtown.
B2) SBG Agrees with FDOT that the existing bridge should be replaced at some future point. The "replacement bridge" would still be aligned roughly with Bridge Street.
B3) SBG Agrees with FDOT that two more lanes of north-south capacity on SR 29 are needed. These two extra lanes are what people are talking about when they say, "second bridge." However, while FDOT wants to feed those extra lanes onto Main Street and ruin it as a quiet, oak-lined neighborhood street, we at SBG ask that those new extra lanes simply be put onto the bypass route.
B4) We at SBG are not asking that the FDOT design be changed to a bypass route immediately. No. We are trying to be responsible citizens and are asking that a bypass route study be started right away to compare (traffic flow, cost, safety, etc.) the FDOT Dogleg Plan vs. the SBG Second Bridge. Two consultants, one a transportation consultant and one a town planning consultant would develop the bypass route study. A City-County-FDOT steering committee should oversee the consultants selection and the execution of the study.
This next city-county joint meeting on July 11 should ideally result in a city and county vote to get the bypass study started right away while breaking ground (of course) awaits the conclusions of the bypass study.