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Bridge project in LaBelle stirs debate. Is a bypass bridge the answer?

The Second Bridge Group' calls for bypass to alleviate downtown traffic
Posted at 8:55 PM, Jan 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-09 20:55:37-05

LABELLE, Fla. — People who live in LaBelle got a chance to see some new ideas for the plan to replace the bridge over the Caloosahatchee into downtown.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) wants to replace it and add another one next to it. With dedicated North and Southbound lanes, they say their goal is to increase access between Hendry and Glades counties. However, the people who live in the area, who call themselves ‘The Second Bridge Group’, had the meeting, to say they’re concerned this would add more traffic to already congested roads.

Leonard Enriquez, the SBG Coordinator, voiced his apprehensions about the project: "Even if you move the cars to the main street side, which is what we understand the proposal is - the trucks would remain on Bridge Street. Now, Bridge Street is already uncrossable, and it would be even more uncrossable if you concentrated all the trucks there."

Enriquez suggested an alternative solution, advocating for a bypass around historic downtown LaBelle. He emphasized that their main goal is to divert heavy truck traffic away from downtown, as trucks passing through are not tourists or shoppers but are focused on reaching their destinations quickly.

In a meeting in December 2022, LaBelle city commissioners voted that they would like to see FDOT revisit the bypass option. So, Fox 4 reached out to FDOT to see where the project currently stands.

David Agacinski, FDOT’s project manager, provided an update, saying, “Our districts leadership - they went ahead and programmed a new feasibility study for state road 29 to look at just a bypass. We’re not going to look at any other parts of the corridor other than the potential bypass. So, that has been funded - there’s a half-million dollars set aside for that study. So, we’ve listened to the local community and we’re going to review it again.”

Agacinski said he also wanted to address misinformation circulating about the project. He dispelled claims about the demolition of historic buildings or the city library. Agacinski added, “Some people think the goal of the project is to move vehicles through the corridor faster, and it’s actually the exact opposite - we’re looking to slow vehicles down.”

He detailed FDOT's commitment to traffic calming solutions, such as roundabouts, and emphasized an increase in pedestrian and cyclist safety with wider sidewalks. Agacinski said there's a public workshop on January 31st and anticipates a public hearing in May or June to discuss further project developments. Once a decision is made, Agacinski says his team will move to the design phase which is estimated to run until 2026.