Southwest Florida International Airport Expansion Delayed: County Steps In to Assist

SUSAN KOSCHALK May 23, 2024

A delay of at least a year in completing the Southwest Florida International Airport terminal expansion project has led elected officials to make significant changes to ensure its timely completion.

Collaborative Efforts to Expedite the Project
On May 16, the Lee County Commissioners voted unanimously (5-0) to grant county staff the authority to work closely with the Port Authority staff. This decision was driven by Port Authority Board Chair Mike Greenwell's initiative to involve Lee County staff in Port Authority affairs, aiming to expedite the project and address ongoing construction challenges.

Assurance to Taxpayers
Before the vote, Commissioner Brian Hamman sought assurances from County Attorney Richard Wesch that this collaborative effort would not impose additional financial burdens on Lee County taxpayers. Wesch confirmed that the integration of county staff would not affect taxpayers.

Separate Entities, Shared Responsibilities
Although the Lee County Port Authority operates independently with its own budget, the elected county commissioners also serve as Port Authority commissioners. This dual role facilitated the seamless decision-making process required for the intervention.

Addressing the Delay
The terminal expansion, initially projected to cost over $300 million, faced delays due to issues with the placement of steel girders. Atkins North America, the project's architect and engineer, pledged $3.3 million to the Port Authority to offset some of the financial setbacks. The commissioners officially accepted this pledge, highlighting a collaborative effort to mitigate losses.

Chairman Mike Greenwell acknowledged the construction issues but expressed confidence in resolving them: “We’ve been working real hard, behind the scenes the last month to try to get that back on track. And I think we’re getting real close to be able to do that.”

Unprecedented Move
Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass highlighted the unprecedented nature of this collaboration, noting that similar attempts had failed in the past. However, this time, the board was determined to make it work, emphasizing the importance of completing the terminal expansion to enhance the airport's functionality and service to the community.

Greenwell clarified that the Port Authority would still lead the project, with county staff providing additional oversight and support: “It’s just basically a second set of eyes to help these guys out... The project is a huge project. So, we want to help in any way we can.”

Concourse E Project
In addition to the terminal expansion, the board discussed the construction of Concourse E, which is set to become the most expensive construction project in county history with a budget nearing $800 million. The commissioners voted unanimously to allow Suffolk Construction to bid out subcontractors independently, a process expected to begin by October and cost approximately $550,000.

Chairman Greenwell expressed enthusiasm about the future developments: “I’m so very excited to see how it’s going to look. I am. I think the expansion is needed... you have to plan these projects so far out.”

Moving Forward
The integration of county staff into the Port Authority's efforts marks a significant step towards addressing the delays and ensuring the successful completion of the Southwest Florida International Airport terminal expansion. This collaborative approach aims to deliver a state-of-the-art airport that meets the growing needs of the community and enhances the travel experience for all.

Stay tuned for further updates on the progress of these critical projects that will shape the future of air travel in Southwest Florida.

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