Plans to create a transit authority in Lee County are moving forward, with a planning committee okaying the concept of a governing board, a roughly 60-million dollar a year budget, and a sales tax increase to pay for it.
"We have to improve Lee Tran and move it to the next phase of mass transit. We all agree that gridlock on the roads is not acceptable. Therefore, we have to get people out of their cars," said Kevin McGrail, a Cape Coral city councilman, and member of the transit oversight committe for the Metropolitan Planning Organization. "I know we will have to convince the voters that it's worth the money. But as the economy improves, we are going to need to find ways to enhance mass transit."
Lee Tran would have to ask voters to approve a one-penny increase in the local sales tax -- from six cents to seven on the dollar. Voters would have to approve in a referendum, that probably would occur sometime in 2012.
"We will have to sell the concept to the voters, tell them exactly what they are getting for their money, and when," said Joel Rey, a transportation consultant who is working on the plans for a transit authority. "Voters in other places have approved extra taxes on themselves, in order to move around more efficiently. For example, we can convince families that maybe they can give up one car, if mass transit could take care of more of their transportation needs. Getting rid of a car will save them money in the long run."
In the next few weeks, Lee Tran will ask county commissioners for 600-thousand dollars. That money would be used to continue planning for a transit authority and governing board.
Lee homeowner Louis Furen has doubts about the timing of a transit authority. "We know people are hurting, so this is probably not the time to even talk about a new tax," said Furen.