Lawyers passed out business cards to upset homeowners during a final public hearing on the anticipated Harborview Road widening project in Charlotte Harbor.
Florida Department of Transportation invited the public to its second major hearing March 14 on the project that could cost $46.2 million in federal, state, and local funds.
It was the amount of space to be dedicated to the new road that angered many residents, along with issues of speed, light pollution and noise. The road would increase from its current curving 80-foot pathway, to 114 feet wide with the same curves more or less. Some homes already hug the old roadway. To the south the road comes close to Charlotte Harbor and waterfront homes.
“Come on guys, save some money here,” Mark Bowsher of the 24000 block of Harborview Road said to the state engineers and an audience of about 140 people. “You have got to scale this back. We don’t need landscaping down the middle. Just because we’re going to Sunseeker does not mean we need palm trees all the way down Harborview to get there.”
Sunseeker is a planned resort anticipated to break ground soon on US-41 near the intersection with Harborview. With that, traffic could increase in coming years.
Lawyer Joshua Stratton of Tallahassee said he has been talking to many property owners, telling them that the state is required to pay their legal costs if their land is needed. He’s had the most interest, he acknowledged, from waterfront property owners on the south side.
Several speakers said they understand the need to make some kind of improvement on the 2.3 miles stretch of narrow road with no shoulder.
“Anybody who’s driven down Harborview pulling a boat trailer...obviously understands those are extremely narrow lanes and some work is needed,” said Greg Taylor.
But Taylor added, “I don’t understand the 30-foot right of way. I don’t understand the walkways and bikeways on both sides.”
So can they eliminate any of the 114-foot amenities?
FDOT project manager Steven Andrews said the current proposal is based on what Charlotte County has requested.
Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Gary Harrell said a five-lane option instead of a median is not popular with drivers or pedestrians. He called the fifth lane the ‘suicide lane,’ because it is dangerous for both drivers trying to turn and pedestrians trying to cross.
The wide median allows for turn lanes, said the county’s highway engineer, Venkat Vattikuti. And eliminating walkways or bikepaths on one side makes users cross a busy highway.
FDOT’s community liaison Michael Tisch said the full buildout will end up enhancing property values with the added amenities.
Still, many residents said they are hoping the state uses a fall-back option, called “no build.”
Harrell noted that the county has already invested a lot of money, $4 million for the design and $8.5 million to acquire right-of-way land. State officials told Harrell the cost of construction — $33.4 million — will need to be shared with the county, or the project will likely languish.
While state and local officials see improvements in the quality of life for drivers, walkers and bikers, property owners are lamenting what they see as a loss in their quality of life.
“I moved here to enjoy the water and to sit and watch the fish, not to get bombarded by sound,” said Taylor.
“What you’re going to do to us waterfront property owners in the most beautiful stretch of water in Charlotte County, it’s disgusting,” said Bowsher.