Driving home the point
As part of an effort to identify traffic improvements along 35 miles of Interstate 75 in southwest Florida, a consortium of counties and cities recently forecasted construction projects that will be needed by 2030. To illustrate to the public the proposed projects’ effects on highway and traffic conditions, the team held a series of meetings that featured traffic simulations and videos.
Travelers in Florida’s Charlotte and Lee counties face increasing traffic congestion and delays as rapid population growth stresses existing roadways. Between 2004 and 2030, the population along one key road leading to I-75 is expected to increase by as much as 72 percent, while population growth along another critical route is projected to swell between 20 percent and 50 percent. Some of the roadways’ average annual daily traffic volumes are expected to increase by 30 percent.
To meet those demands, the Lee County Department of Transportation led a two-year study. It also included Charlotte County, the Charlotte County-Punta Gorda Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the cities of Cape Coral, Punta Gorda and Fort Myers. In October 2003, Miami-based PBS&J was hired to help plan a number of improvements, including roadway widening projects, elevated freeway systems with frontage roads, and intersection and interchange improvements. The projects are expected to cost Charlotte County and Punta Gorda $183.2 million, while Lee County and Cape Coral face costs of up to $214 million. Lee County’s and Fort Myers’s projects could cost as much as $451.3 million. Potential sources of funding include federal and state transportation funds, capital improvement programs, transportation impact fees and toll revenues.
To communicate the study’s findings and recommendations to the public, the group created a project Web site and regularly held public meetings and workshops. During the meetings, presenters used micro-traffic simulation software to show highly detailed depictions of traffic conditions.
The software, developed by Sugarland, Texas-based Trafficware, analyzed existing and future traffic operations along the expressway system with one-way frontage roads and displayed it in a bird’s-eye view, depicting traffic flows, queues and delays. The simulations showed expected delays at each intersection and the service levels at the intersections and frontage roads.
To show some of the more complex construction plans — such as a proposed elevated expressway for Colonial Boulevard, a major roadway in Lee County that currently features mostly at-grade intersections and one interchange — presenters showed three-dimensional video images created with traffic-simulation software VISSIM by Corvallis, Ore.-based PTV America. The proposed freeway includes overpasses at all major intersections, using one of two types of interchange configurations. The video simulation showed the proposed freeway with expected peak traffic conditions in 2030, even depicting bridge details based on the initial plans.
“Trying to present a plan for 25 years in the future to the general public could have proved challenging,” says Nicole Maxey, project manager for Lee County. However, the video “allowed the public to get a glimpse of what was to be constructed over the next 20 years,” she says.
Survey results and findings from discussion groups guided the selection of future transportation options. Now, Lee and Charlotte counties are examining the projects’ components to determine affordability and performing required studies to maintain eligibility for federal funding.