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Collier County, state plan multi-million-dollar road projects

Traffic builds up on I-75 just outside of Immokalee Road. Collier County and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have a plan in place to reduce traffic issues along Collier's interchanges.
Tyler Watkins
Traffic builds up on I-75 just outside of Immokalee Road. Collier County and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have a plan in place to reduce traffic issues along Collier's interchanges.

In response to the lack of traffic infrastructure in the area, Collier County has teamed up with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in a multi-million-dollar project to rectify the congestion accompanied by the area’s population growth.

Many Collier citizens, like Indiana RePaul, have experienced daily complications due to road congestion.

“Now we have the snowbirds back in town, and traffic is hectic and crazy. There’s a lot of old people driving and causing a lot of accidents,” RePaul said. “For other people in my office, my boyfriend and my family, it’s just very crazy and hectic, and it takes longer than usual to get around.”

In a partnership with FDOT, Collier’s urban traffic infrastructure plan is an estimated $180 million. The partnership has accelerated improvements that were scheduled to begin in 2024.

The plan centers around three interchange projects. Collier is currently funding a $90 million construction improvement on Collier Boulevard and I-75’s interchanges. FDOT will contribute $90 million to improve Pine Ridge and I-75 after Collier Boulevard’s completion. These improvements will make way for Immokalee’s interchange upgrades.

The road management plan contains improvements for rural areas such as Vanderbilt Beach’s extension; 30% to 40% of the traffic along Immokalee Road and Golden Gate Boulevard will be extended toward Vanderbilt Beach to improve traffic flows.

County Commissioner William McDaniel said the current administration is placing more emphasis on Collier’s infrastructure.

“There just hasn’t been the priority put upon the support of the infrastructure for the population that is here, let alone those that are coming,” McDaniel said. “It’s not just roads; it’s also water, storm, sewer, and marketplace (retail places). All of the things that people need could’ve been better disbursed if there was more of a priority on the infrastructure in our grid system.”

Previous county board actions caused a reduction in the quality of life for McDaniel’s residents, he said. Community quality of life is determined by aspects that affect citizens’ day-to-day lives, such as the road or water and air quality.

In 2016, the board of commissioners voted to raise ad valorem taxes on citizens in a five-year plan. The plan garnered $5 million per year into a capital program to construct more landscape medians in Collier’s road systems. Collier would spend $9 million per year on the maintenance of landscaped medians.

McDaniel noted the decision to not build more roads has stressed out existing road systems. The commissioner has advocated for this shift in policy since he was elected in 2016.

Collier County has experienced substantial population growth. McDaniel, who has been a Collier resident for 40 years, noted Collier’s population was approximately 75,000 residents when he took residency. The county’s population has swelled to 376,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“Growth is inevitable,” McDaniel said. “With the most recent census, we are close to 50% of our total buildout (an estimate of the amount and location of potential development of an area).”

The Collier County Commissioners are also moving forward with this plan in response to studies regarding the future of artificial intelligence and automated vehicle technology.

“What’s important for folks to understand is with the advent of AI and AV the necessity for expanding our road systems is going to become less and less,” McDaniel said. “Some of the preliminary studies that we’re seeing are as much as a 30% reduction in roadway requisites for infrastructure.”

If AI technology rises in popularity, the impact it would have on Collier’s existing roadways would be reduced. This would allow spending on other amenities such as retention pond sites.

According to Collier County’s website, interchange repairs such as Immokalee and I-75 are projected to be completed between 2026 and 2030.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service of Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at thwatkins18@gmail.com.