Posted on December 22, 2020
An upgrade to the Sanibel Causeway beaches would help prevent beach sand from being washed away by tides and add new parking and restrooms under a plan approved by Lee County Commissioners Tuesday.
The causeway islands are under the Sanibel Causeway, which begins as an elevated bridge, and dips to the two islands, named Island A and Island B. Together the causeway island beaches cover about 10 acres.
After paying the $6 toll to use the causeway, travelers first cross Island A and then approach Island B. Cars can leave the bridge to access the beach on either island.
County Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Lavender said the project will cost $8.5 million with money put up by both the state and the county.
Erosion control structures would be built on both islands to stave off deterioration of the beaches. County Communications Director Betsy Clayton said it will save work and money.
“The planned erosion control structures alone will save the county about $150,000 a year,” she said.
The county typically spends $100,000 in material and $50,000 for staff time and equipment on erosion control, she said.
Lavender said the work will include “construction of the already permitted and designed erosion control structures — solicitation (of bids from contractors) would take place next month.”
Beyond shoring up the shore, additional facilities will be added to both islands.
One goal is permanent restrooms for Island A.
“We’re talking about a full analysis of restrooms on this island, structured parking, adding natural vegetation,” Lavender said. “Part of the goal is to create some erosion control structures for Island A. The design firm would do a full analysis of where that would be necessary as they’ve already done for Island B.”
That part of the project includes a plan to place limits on how the islands are accessed from the causeway.
On Island B, 213 parking spots would be created, adding some vegetation so you won’t be able to accelerate on or off wherever you’d like as you can do now, Lavender said. “We’d put some natural barriers there for safety measures to get on and off the road.”
The causeway beaches were created after the original causeway was opened in 1963. The current bridge opened in 2007 after three years of construction.
“The goal here is for both islands is to add enhancements for safety purposes and try as much as we can to keep the natural beauty and the natural activities that have been going on there for many, many years,” Lavender said.
The county website notes that the causeway beaches carry no parking charge beyond the $6 causeway toll, and a county spokeswoman said there is no current plan to begin charging visitors to park.
Clayton said it has yet to be determined whether parking fees would be levied on visitors “similar to other beach sites” or whether free use of the parking lots would continue.
The total cost, $8.5 million, will include contributions of $4.25 million from both the county and the state. The county share would come from the county Tourist Development Council reserve funds.
Commissioner Brian Hamman said the out-of-the-way islands are popular spots, especially in the evening.
“This is really a well-used, well-loved county facility. You can go out there on any evening, seeing people watching a sunset and enjoying it,” Hamman said. “We want to make sure that as we make it a little more structured we want to make sure that people still recognize it because a lot of folks have traditions of going out there.”
Commission Chairman Kevin Ruane said he travels the causeway on a daily basis and appreciates the unexpected treasure of the two islands.
“I remember when the causeway was put together, I never thought it would be the amenity that it is, but it’s really a jewel,” he said.