BY LIZA STROUT - Wider shoulders should lead to less controversy between vehicles and bicycles once the Boca Grande Causeway replacement bridge project is complete. At least that’s what the board is hoping, considering bicycle traffic has skyrocketed within the last few weeks.
After several near misses on the narrow road, the subject of bicycling groups and bicyclist safety came up at a special board meeting of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority on Tuesday, March 20. The new Pioneer Trail has led to a great increase in the number of people crossing the bridges by bike since it opened, and another bicycle trail on Placida Road beginning in Rotonda is also in the works.
In the last month, approximately 190 bicyclists have paid to cross the bridge, more than double the usual number. The original plan for the new causeway included a four-foot shoulder on the road between the bridges for road sharing.
This feature was removed as a $350,000 cost saving measure, though the wider shoulders are still part of the plans for the bridges themselves. The plan at the time was to add the cost into the price of the swing bridge construction.
With an increase in “near misses” involving bicyclists, GIBA’s Executive Director Jim Cooper and Chairman David Hayes are meeting with Charlotte County Commissioners to seek support for state funds to pay to have the “Share the Road” shoulders put back into the fixed bridge plan.
The state Metropolitan Planning Organization, which was part of the process for the no-interest $1.5 million loan that the Authority received last year, controls the funds that the bridge board is seeking. Charlotte County is a member of the MPO, and two Charlotte County Commissioners are on the board of the MPO.
According to Cooper, “The meetings that we had Wednesday (March 28) were very positive. The commissioners were quick to point out that these are troubled times, and we explained that we weren’t looking for money from them, but for support for our application to the MPO.” Cooper and Hayes intend to return to the Charlotte County offices on Monday, April 2 to meet with more commissioners.
Cooper is positive about the possibility of a grant.
“When we started out, we didn’t count on the MPO money at all, so anything they approve is a step in the right direction for us,” he said.
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