Special to The Breeze
The Federal Transit Administration has awarded LeeTran $5 million toward construction of its new headquarters facility, due to break ground later this year.
The grant was one of 255 awarded from the "state of good repair" and "livability" discretionary grant programs available to transit agencies throughout the U.S. and its territories. The competitive process selects recipients based on need and the viability of the project.
LeeTran qualified for "state of good repair" funds to replace its 30-year-old facility with a new LEED-certified transit administration, operations and maintenance complex. The 23.9-acre site is located at 3251 Evans Avenue in Fort Myers, and environmental studies have been completed. Architectural design is scheduled for completion this fall and construction should begin early next year. The total cost of construction is preliminarily estimated at $32 million, the majority of which will be covered by state and federal funds.
"This new facility is necessary, because our current 4 1/2-acre site has no room for growth," explained Transit Director Steve Myers. "We also have a group of employees in leased space. This project will bring our staff back together in an energy-efficient building that will accommodate our growth for another 30 years."
LeeTran recently received another federal grant of $1.4 million from the FTA's Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative. That grant will pay for information kiosks to be installed at the new Veterans Administration Healthcare Center in Cape Coral and other locations, where veterans can readily obtain real-time information on transit trips and schedules, as well as other community services, day or night. The real-time information system, based on Automatic Vehicle Locators, will benefit all riders, who will also be able to access it with smart phones and computers.
LeeTran's largest recent grant, $13.9 million, was used to purchase 24 hybrid vehicles which will start arriving in Lee County in October.
"We've been extremely fortunate in the past year to have landed more than $20 million in federal funds," said Myers. "The real winners are our riders, who will have a more pleasant ride and information at their fingertips to help them save time on their commute."
Having just concluded the third quarter of its fiscal year, LeeTran is on pace to make this a record-setting year in several key metrics.
In the last fiscal year, LeeTran's ridership increased 6.38 percent, which was a very strong performance compared to other transit agencies. However, for the current fiscal year to date, ridership increased an astounding 17.5 percent, earning LeeTran national attention when USA Today reported that the use of public transit is soaring nationwide.
LeeTran staff attributes some of the gains to a recovering economy and higher fuel prices, but some of the credit goes to route changes that shifted resources to areas of need. A Comprehensive Operations Analysis completed in late 2010 gave planning staff the data needed to revamp about one-third of the system. These improvements were implemented in October 2011 and January 2012, and immediately showed positive results.