Population Growth and Transportation Needs in Southwest Florida

By Gary Tasman

There are a lot of reasons to love Southwest Florida: beautiful beaches, abundant activities, and a snow-free environment typically top residents’ lists.

But ask the average Southwest Floridian what they dislike most about our region, and you’ll often hear the same answer over and over again: traffic.

That response likely wouldn’t survive employees at navigation app developer TomTom. The TomTom Traffic Index, which analyzes urban congestion worldwide, ranks the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area as the 13th most congested metro area in the entire United States, just behind Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Tampa. TomTom estimates that Lee County drivers lose 73 hours sitting in traffic in a year– more than three days’ worth of time.

Fortunately, work-from-home initiatives, new transportation corridors, and employers who have relocated to more commuter-friendly locations have relieved some congestion in our region. For those Southwest Floridians still frustrated by traffic, we have good news: More relief is coming from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

Transportation Infrastructure and Population Growth
FDOT has been paying close attention to population growth in our region as it prepares for the transportation needs of the future. Between Lee, Collier, and Charlotte Counties, 100 new residents are moving to our region daily. Lee County is one of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the United States, growing 19% in the last decade. All three counties are expected to continue growing at a rapid pace for the foreseeable future.

Explosive population growth like ours nurtures demand for new services, new industries, and new jobs. The pressure generated by each of these factors will urge significant investments in transportation infrastructure. For example, as Northwest Cape Coral’s population expands, the widening of Burnt Store Road will allow residents better access to Interstate 75. Other transportation projects in the works promise to relieve traffic at I-75 and Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers and improve access to the interstate for commuters in Golden Gate. However, I-75 itself is also a focus.

FDOT Southwest Connect Program
FDOT’s Southwest Connect program takes interstate connectivity a step further than the aforementioned initiatives. According to FDOT, each project within the program is expected to move people and goods safely and efficiently while balancing regional transportation needs with community concerns.

The four pillars of FDOT’s program are:

  • interstate improvements to accommodate long-term needs for capacity and mobility;
  • new interchanges to I-75 and accessibility improvements to existing interchanges;
  • enhanced liveability and economic growth through complete streets design principles; and
  • multi-modal accommodations to enhance access, efficiency and safety in transportation.

As FDOT works to identify the future transportation needs of our community, it will engage the public and local agencies, including county and city governments. Possible transportation alternatives may include strategies like managed lanes like those dedicated to carpool/high occupancy vehicles, truck-only lanes, or express lanes.

Improving access and flow on the interstate will surely relieve some of our region’s traffic woes. However, numerous other initiatives and studies, particularly in Lee County, are focused on reducing the number of vehicles on our roads altogether.

Public Transit Initiatives in Lee County
A $3.89 million improvement project to LeeTran’s Rosa Parks Transportation Center in midtown Fort Myers is adding four more bus bays and expanding access for bicyclists, pedestrians, and persons with limited mobility. The improvements will be the first of any significance for the facility since it opened 22 years ago, and a welcome sight for anyone who depends on public transit in Lee County.

The Southwest Florida Vanpool Program also reduces the number of vehicles on our roads by providing a low-cost, convenient commute. The fleet, provided by Enterprise, includes large passenger vans, minivans and crossover vehicles. The program allows coworkers who live near one another to form vanpools of up to 15 commuters, who share expenses and driving responsibilities.

However, the most futuristic of FDOT’s initiatives is the autonomous shuttle program it hopes to implement in the next five years. LeeTran has been identified as a partner transit agency, and a potential route for the driverless shuttle is being identified in downtown Fort Myers. While the initial stage of this program may not make a significant impact on our region’s overall traffic woes, the program itself is evidence of FDOT’s willingness to look at outside-the-box solutions to our area’s traffic woes.

Transportation Infrastructure and Commercial Real Estate
Naturally, when we talk about improvements to transportation in our region, most of us wonder how they will impact our own daily commutes. However, the importance of transportation infrastructure improvements expands far beyond our own personal convenience. Investment in transportation infrastructure is vital to the health of the commercial real estate market in any community. Residents need access to goods and services, employers need access to personnel, and manufacturers need access to distributors and warehouses.

Commercial growth in Southwest Florida has closely followed infrastructure investment, and this trend will continue as our population boom continues. The ability to transport goods, services, and employees are vital to the success of our region’s businesses. With transportation advancements, smart businesses will be able to reduce costs, boost their productivity, and create jobs for the 100 newcomers a day that arrive in our region.

How will transportation changes in Southwest Florida impact your business? Are you in the right location to take advantage of our region’s growth? If you’re seeking the answers to these questions, contact the Commercial Property Experts at Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida. Our team of commercial real estate professionals has the knowledge and experience to help guide you and your business. Call us at 239-489-3600 or contact us.

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