Brent Batten, Naples Daily NewsPublished 5:00 a.m. ET July 25, 2019
View a rendering from the Pedestrian Bridge Crossing Feasibility Study. (Photo: Collier County)
But for pedestrians, it might as well be a gulf.
Momentum is building to bridge that gulf, literally, by dusting off a plan that’s been on the shelf for a few years.
Naples Mayor Bill Barnett wants the city and county to collaborate to connect the two amenities with a pedestrian bridge over Golden Gate Parkway.
“Every time I drive by the Freedom Memorial I thought it was sad that after all the time and money spent building that beautiful memorial that it was underused simply because of the access-egress to it, which you know is not good,” Barnett said.
Brent Batten (Photo: Luke Franke/Naples Daily News)
He’s not the first person to think that.
In 2015, the county went so far as to hire a consultant to do a feasibility study for just such a bridge.
Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison, two City Council members who also serve on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which prioritizes transportation projects in the county, took the mayor’s idea to that group.
As a result of that meeting and meetings with staff, the project has moved up to second on a priority list of bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Buxton cautions that that doesn’t mean it’s about to happen. “These things are all carved in Jell-O, and it’s hot out,” he said.
Buxton, chairman of the MPO, also serves on a statewide association of MPOs from other areas. He says he’ll bring the idea up with the association in hopes of building support for state transportation funding.
Naples City Manager Charles Chapman met with county staff Monday to further promote the idea.
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It will need to be a county project, since Golden Gate Parkway is a county road and Freedom Park is a county property.
But Chapman said the city wants to help by lobbying for support, seeking grants and perhaps even kicking in city tax dollars if the project gets going. “The city has long been an advocate for mobility patterns where folks have options,” Chapman said. The current street crossing between the two parks is dangerous, especially for people with disabilities or those crossing with children. “This (pedestrian bridge) is going right along with the philosophy of Naples,” he said.
Chapman is drafting a letter asking the county commission to get behind the project.
Connie Deane, spokeswoman of the county transportation department, said the county staff is already working on an appropriation request to present to the area’s state legislators in advance of next year’s legislative session.
The 2015 design estimated a project cost of between $2 million and $5 million, but Buxton says the upper range is probably closer to $7 million now.
The consultant offered alternatives from the utilitarian to the decorative.
Chapman believes the City Council would be most supportive of the latter option.
The bridge, which would be near the city limits, would serve as a gateway into Naples. “This is a landmark opportunity. We want to make sure it’s done first class,” he said.
The city push for a county project is reminiscent of the 2015 effort to complete Freedom Park. The park and its signature American flag memorial wall languished in a state of partial completion until then-Mayor John Sorey got fed up with what amounted to a construction zone at the entrance to the city and led the final push of a fundraising drive to complete it.
While common elsewhere, pedestrian bridges over major roads have yet to appear in Collier County.
The most likely candidate site has always been Four Corners, where U.S. 41 turns to the east in downtown Naples.
The busy intersection makes pedestrian movement from the Fifth Avenue South shopping and dining area to the new developments to the east difficult.
In 2005, the city went so far as to invite architects to design alternatives, including crossovers, that would fit the city’s image.
A crossover there would be a state project, since U.S. 41 is a state highway. Barnett isn’t sure it’s feasible, given the space available.
But Chapman says the city has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to at least consider a pedestrian bridge as it looks for alternatives for U.S. 41 through downtown. “We’ve thrown it into the mix for DOT to consider,” Chapman said.
He expects FDOT to update the city on its plans in the next 60 to 90 days.
He points to pedestrian walkways in places like Downtown Disney. “Pedestrian bridges do not have to be an eyesore,” he said.