Lee County officials broke ground Monday on LeeTran's new $32 million headquarters, which is expected to be completed within two years.
Representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation and Lee County Board of County Commissioners and other officials were scheduled to speak at the ceremony, held at the site at 3251 Evans Ave. in Fort Myers.
"We've been working towards it for nine years," LeeTran spokeswoman Joann Haley said of the project Tuesday.
"About 70 percent of the cost is being covered by federal grants," she added. "That's a lot of money to try and raise in one lump sum."
State funding will cover the remainder of the $32 million.
The facility is estimated to take 18 to 24 months to complete.
"What we were looking at was a parcel as close to the geographical center of our coverage area as possible," Haley said.
The current headquarters is at 6035 Landing View Road, off of Metro Parkway, just south of Colonial Boulevard. First occupied in 1980, it sits on more than four acres, with about 22,000 square feet of office space.
The new facility will be situated on 23 acres, with approximately 30,000 square feet of office space and 45,000 square feet for maintenance. The maintenance space at the existing building is about 17,000 square feet.
"Our current building is too small to house our transit staff," Haley said. "We have to lease space for them down on Six Mile Cypress (Parkway)."
LeeTran employs about 250 people, with 16 working out of the satellite office and eight in an office trailer outside the current headquarters.
"We're also leasing some extra space on the back of our property for parking," she said.
According to Haley, it costs $61,620 annually to lease the satellite office and $14,244 per year for the additional land for parking at the main office.
"Our people are just walking on air," she said of the new headquarters.
"It will have parking for roughly double the number of vehicles that we have now and double the number of employees," Haley said.
The new site will have two bus washers, compared to one at the current facility, along with larger fuel tanks. Fuel is now delivered every few days.
"They will have more bus bays for maintenance. One will even be able to accommodate a 60-foot articulated bus," she said, explaining that the bus basically is two buses connected in the middle by an accordion-like joint.
Articulated buses are used in large cities to carry more passengers.
"We have quite a few 40-foot buses. A lot of them are running full," Haley said. "We have to be prepared for what the next step is going to be."
LeeTran has seen 28 consecutive months of record-breaking ridership.
"Last fiscal year, it was up 17 percent, which is almost unheard of in our industry," she said.
LeeTran conducted a survey a few years ago and found that about 30 percent of riders did not have access to a vehicle. Haley cited gas prices and an inability to afford a vehicle as other reasons for the spike in riders.
"As people are returning to work after a period of unemployment, they might not be able to afford a private vehicle yet," she said.
Haley added that LeeTran has 22 new hybrids on the road.
"We have been upgrading," she said. "They're more comfortable, more quieter - a much nicer experience."
This year, ridership is on track to exceed 4 million passengers. The new headquarters will allow LeeTran to meet growth needs through 2030.
Like the current facility, the new one will be a bus stop and offer service.
There will also be a regional training center set up at the new site.
"The state will use us as the headquarters for maintenance and training," Haley said, adding that state-funded training equipment will be on hand.
The project itself will create about 500 jobs during construction.
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