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Collier pushing for more cross-county bus routes

Posted at 7:15 AM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 08:37:53-05

NAPLES, Fla. — Soon it could be easier for bus riders to cross county lines. Collier County is leading a push to create a regional system for public transportation. County officials say such a system would benefit all of Southwest Florida’s economy and infrastructure.

Collier County commissioners and Collier Area Transit are working to create more public routes between surrounding counties. They say that could bring more workers to the county, as well as ease the traffic on local roads.

“We’re all interconnected. Regular traffic does not see county lines when going up U.S. 41 or I-75,” said Collier County commissioner William McDaniel, explaining why it’s important for bus riders to be able to travel more freely between counties.

McDaniel is trying to create a committee of public transportation officials from Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties to address the issue.

“This is beginning of direly needed communication amongst the individual municipalities,” he added.

Allowing people to take a bus from farther away could expand the number of workers in Collier, where high housing costs can force them to live elsewhere.

McDaniel said 17 percent of Collier County’s workers live outside the county.

“It increases the opportunity for people, the types of jobs, the various opportunities that employers have out there for them,” said Amy Hanna-Eckenrode of CareerSource, a job-placement agency in Fort Myers. “It’s just a win-win situation for both businesses and job-seekers looking for work.”

It would be a win not just for people coming into Collier County, but for people who live here as well.

“There more than 378,000 people in Collier County alone,” Hanna-Eckenrode said. “I would say a good portion of them, 30 percent, are at level that could really benefit from the help with costs that public transportation affords.”

The benefits could extend even farther.

Omar Deleon, public transit manager for Collier Area Transit, said the group’s 10-year plan includes looking at transportation even past Lee County.

“I think it’s important to evaluate not only Lee County but others, like Hendry County,” Deleon said. “Is there a potential connection there with Immokalee and Lehigh? Those are all things we evaluate, look into and needs to be analyzed further.”

Both Deleon and Commissioner McDaniel said public input is vital in this project. When a new multi-county transit committee is formed, those meetings will be public, McDaniel said. And Deleon said Collier Area Transit will take input through its website.