Dozens of Lee, Collier and state officials gathered under a tent near the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and Immokalee Road Thursday to celebrate a new public transit system that connects the two counties.
Public officials have talked for years about connecting Lee and Collier as a way to make the two counties more of a region.
“People talk about public transit,” Lee commissioner Ray Judah said. “We’ve heard so much from the naysayers. This is not a small step. This is a huge step.”
Lee Tran and the Collier Area Transit worked with Florida Department of Transportation on the route. The new segment starts in Estero at Coconut Point Mall, runs south to Bernwood Drive, then east on Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs. From there the loop travels south to Bonita Beach Road and then west to U.S. 41 before turning south and traveling to the Creekside Transfer Center near the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and Immokalee Road in North Naples. Routes run every 90 minutes daily at six stops for a $1.25 fare.
Bonita Spring Mayor Ben Nelson has pushed for the connector service for years. Thursday he took a bus trip from Bonita Springs to North Naples and said he plans to visit Coconut Point mall on Saturdays via the bus system.
“Relationships are what it’s all about,” Nelson said. “When you’re talking about north Collier and south Lee, we’ve been a community for a long time. We all go to the same places. We all go to the same stores. We eat at the same restaurants.”
Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller said the public transit union shows that both counties are working together to promote Southwest Florida.
“I view it as a way of promoting regionalism,” Hiller said. “It’s supporting the relationship between Lee and Collier.”
The cost for the expansion is $977,890. The Florida Department of Transportation is putting up $411,208, while Lee County will contribute $395,376 to supplement the fares.
Lee Tran director Steve Myers called the new route a milestone achievement.
“It’s a lifestyle more and more people are choosing,” Myer said. “You don’t have to be stuck behind a wheel. With wi-fi connections, you can get work done on the bus.”