The gap in bus service between Lee and Collier county will soon be filled.
The Lee County Commission agreed 3-2 on Tuesday to reconfigure its bus service and extend it to Immokalee Road in Collier County in October.
“We have budget issues that we’re challenged with right now,” Hall said. “We have no data on what the ridership will be.”
Hall said she was concerned the county was taking money that could be used elsewhere in the transit system and putting it into a new program.
But the new route, which is planned as a three-year pilot with a review in one year, will not use additional county money, said Steve Myers, transit director.
Instead the county will use money it already spends on a route in Bonita Springs, as well as Bonita’s trolley, to qualify for about $1 million in state and federal matching grants. Only about $153,000, which is federal money, could be allocated elsewhere, Myers said. The remaining $850,000 in state grants would have to be returned to the state if not used on this project.
The money will be enough to run a route in North Naples as well as expand service in Bonita Springs for three years.
“It creates more service by going seven days a week where they currently have six and we increase the number of stops with new service on Bonita Beach Road and West Terry Street,” Myers said.
Fares will not change at $1.25 per ride or $3.50 per all-day pass.
Collier County is providing a bus, which it is leasing to Lee for $10 for the three-year program. The bus will be used to connect North Naples at Immokalee Road and U.S. 41 with the rest of Lee County.
Advocates of the plan have urged lawmakers to view the area regionally, recognizing that residents who live in one county may work or shop in the other.
Currently, there’s no way to do that via bus.
“This is an excellent idea and we can actually join our two counties with a bus system,” said Joe Beck, of Fort Myers, and member of BikeWalkLee. The group advocates sustainable transportation plans.
Mann said he was hesitant to support the route saying Collier County hasn’t stepped up to the plate. The county backed out of an earlier plan to pay for part of the bus route’s cost.
“We’re extending this into Collier County with no support from Collier County at this time,” Mann said.
He was also concerned that the county would paint itself into a corner. It could be likely the county could not get more state money once the three-year grant expires.
He said in the past it was politically impossible to eliminate a route once it was part of the community.
But Commissioner Ray Judah encouraged the board to support the route if they are serious about committing to public transportation and thinking regionally.
Lee County was not on the hook for money, Judah said, and he supported Commissioner Brian Bigelow’s suggestion to review the program in one year.
“We can always pull the plug,” Judah said.
In other news, the board also approved a $185,000 contract for its new attorney, Michael Hunt. In addition, Hunt will receive $8,500 in deferred compensation.
Hunt, a former deputy county attorney for St. Johns County, will begin in April.
Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/