They came early, they came often, and they had a lot of questions.
More than 150 people came to the auditorium at the German-American Club on Pine Island Road to get a peek at the proposed expansion of Pine Island Road from Chiquita Boulevard to Burnt Store Road.
The expansion, which will serve as an evacuation route for residents west of Burnt Store, is also expected to lure business to an area bereft of it.
And with many showing up before the scheduled 4:30 p.m. start, there were many questions that needed to be answered, which pleased Debbie Tower, Florida Department of Transportation director of information.
"We're pleased to see people come early and ask a lot of questions. We want to be sure we can answer questions about designs produced," Tower said. "Most questions are about where medians will be placed and about new traffic lights.
The potential for growth in the area is obvious to most, and with Wal-Mart and others expected to build, it could mean more businesses will follow, especially on Burnt Store Road, which is next on the widening docket.
"It's a tremendous opportunity, and it ties in with the Burnt Store widening," said Dana Brunett, economic director for the city of Cape Coral. "We need a better tax base, more jobs and more investment. This type of widening creates that."
Among those with an interest was Hal Arkin of RE/MAX Realty, who deals in commercial property, who looked at the long map to get an understanding of the U-turns that will be needed to get to the shopping center.
"I'm trying to understand how this will affect present businesses and future business," Arkin said. "Another issue is utilities. You have to have water and sewers and they stop at Chiquita."
Another was Tim Frederick, owner of the future McDonald's at the Publix Shopping Center, who has a vested interest in what traffic will be like.
"We want to assure we have the best access possible for us," Frederick said. "We can't go wrong with this location. We're happy we're able to do this."
No new lights are planned, however, the two-mile stretch will have five medians, at Nott Road; Saddlewood Lane, across from the German-American Club; at Williamson and Sons and Marine Concepts; Sandoval and Cemex Concrete.
According to Selina Carroll, access management specialist for the FDOT, consideration was made for businesses that had large trucks.
"We tried to accommodate as much as possible, especially with trucks," Carroll said. "We didn't want the trucks to turn at the corner of Publix."
Among those with concerns was Jay Johnson, owner of Bubba's Roadhouse and Saloon, where much construction will be.
Besides the potential loss of business during the 15 months of construction, he wasn't too happy about where the medians were to be placed.
"The biggest concern I have is access to our property. We want good turns into our building from Pine Island," Johnson said. "The state has done a good job, we just need 10 feet for the median."
Those coming east would have to make a U-turn in front of the German American Club, then a sharp right. Those leaving Bubba's would have to travel a quarter mile to U-turn to go east.
Among those in attendance were several council members and Mayor John Sullivan, who all understood the importance of the workshop.
"I've been hearing a lot of excitement, but I've also heard the concerns of businesses and rightfully so," said Councilmember Derrick Donnell. "It's encouraging to hear what the state will do to minimize the impact during construction. I want this to be as least invasive as possible."
Sullivan liked what he saw.
"I think it's going to be good for the city, it's needed. I think we'll see lots of development once it's completed," Sullivan said. "This is more than about Cape Coral."
Construction is scheduled to begin next year, with completion expected to take two years.