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Forum held on Burnt Store Road issues

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Feb 9, 2024

Hundreds of people gathered Thursday at the Burnt Store Presbyterian Church in Punta Gorda for a community forum with law enforcement and elected officials in Lee and Charlotte counties to discuss the issues concerning Burnt Store Road and what could be coming next regarding water, expansion, and construction near the area.

John Fleming, chairman of the Burnt Store Corridor Coalition, a Political Action Committee concerning the long-discussed road, said the goal is to make the road as safe and environmentally friendly as possible.

Most importantly, they want the road — whose expansion on Burnt Store Road in Charlotte County is complete except for the final 1,000 feet but still two-laned from near the county line to Van Buren Parkway — expanded as quickly as possible.

“We’re trying to move up the timeline. Right now, completion is set for 2032. We have people from the Lee and Charlotte delegations to discuss the timelines and some amendments for the design of the road,” Fleming said.

The price tag for the expansion as of now is around $200 million.

Though a Q&A segment wasn’t planned, there were several questions posed regarding a number of topics.

One of the biggest concerns in the aftermath of the four-laned Burnt Store Road in Charlotte has been the increase in speeding, attendees contend. Much of the road is 55 mph and it becomes a speedway at times during the busy hours of the day.

The coalition has made it a priority to address the safety of the road and increase police resources, Fleming said. Police have made it a point to patrol the road, and have handed out dozens of citations since November.

Also of concern are the older communities along the corridor which some say will face flooding issues.

“All the communities south of Zemel Road are having problems related to the old infrastructure, some of which is too old,” Fleming said. “When a new community goes up, more people use the road and as it gets worse, more rain will result in the system totally collapsing.”

Over the past four months the coalition has also been working with the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center to measure the extent of damage to the wildlife along the corridor.

More than 100 animals have been spotted along Burnt Store Road dead, from gopher tortoises to bobcats, said Ashley Cook, park manager at Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center.

The coalition has been in discussions with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and Congressman William Steube’s office for the purpose of securing funding to create a wildlife corridor.

Also discussed was an update of the 2005 Burnt Store Master Plan, without which the older communities will experience more flooding, environmental and infrastructure problems.

Another issue could be commercial development, which will be especially big in Lee County as well as along the county line. The road will become a major thoroughfare and hurricane evacuation route for Lee County.

Most of those who attended lived in Charlotte County, though Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane was there with members of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Ruane said the forum was a success, and they received a lot of input from residents about what they wanted and it gives everyone a chance to work on what’s needed ahead of expansion.

“We can take this back to the commissioners and our coalition can work with the Charlotte County coalition,” Ruane said. “There’s a great desire to move this along as quickly as possible.”

John Smart, of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, a Cape Coral organization, attended with Sam Yaffui, a fellow member and realtor. Smart said he learned a lot about how they did the drains.

“The meeting seemed to concentrate more on Charlotte County and it needed to emphasize Lee County and Cape Coral more,” Yaffui said.

Smart said it might be a good idea for the NWNA to hold its own forum on Burnt Store Road sometime in the future. The Burnt Store Corridor Coalition is planning another meeting.

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