BERT Economic Benefits

Winter Garden (left) and Dunedin (right) Florida are excellent examples of how the addition of multi-use trails can transform local economies.

It’s time to get excited about the economic benefits that the Bonita Estero Rail Trail will bring to Lee County!   Upon completion the trail is expected to draw thousands of tourists annually contributing heavily to the growth and diversification of the tourism economy for Lee County.   Trail user expenditures for hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, rental shops, hard good sales, etc., are estimated to be between $3.9M to $8.5M annually, growing as the number of trail users increase.   Property development along the trail, especially those directly servicing trail users, would almost certainly experience transformational growth that would likely include additions of restaurants, bed & breakfasts, bike rentals and sales, breweries, food & beverage services, etc.   Store front occupancy rates would likely rise to nearly 100% as was the case for Winter Garden and Dunedin Florida after completion of the Pinellas and West Orange Trails respectively.  These two ‘trail-towns’, (as well as many others across the country), experienced transformational economic boosts and job creation after the trails were completed as would most certainly be the case for such areas as Downtown Bonita Springs and Estero.   Numerous studies indicate residential and commercial property values within a mile of the trail will increase 7% – 20% higher than comparable properties resulting in a $3.4M increase compounded annually for those properties.   Together, trail user expenditures, business growth and increases in property values will contribute substantially to sales and property tax revenue streams.   The boost in economic value that the trail would bring would be particularly beneficial to low to moderate income areas such as Downtown Bonita Springs, central Estero and San Carlos Park.   

Positive economic impacts can also be measured for livability improvements for recreation, health and safety.   A 2019 study by the FDOT on five multiuse trials calculated recreational benefits to range between $234K to $4M annually.   The same study calculated health benefits ranging between $185 – $617 per user annually, and safety calculated as high as $11K per severe or fatal car-pedestrian/bicycle accident avoidance and an average of $5K per incident in property damage avoidance.   

The trail would also provide a direct access by residents and tourist to the area’s natural resources given that the corridor traverses along wooded areas, streams and tributaries, wetlands and both the Estero and Imperial Rivers.   

In addition to the recreation, health and tourism benefits, the trail would also provide a more practical benefit of a safe and cheap transportation corridor.  This would be particularly true for the communities of San Carlos Park and Bonita Springs by providing a direct transportation link between concentrations of existing workforce housing and area jobs.   

Economic benefits can also result by improvements in water quality and flood control that can only be possible by the purchase of the corridor.   These benefits can be measured by reductions in health care and flood insurance premiums.   

The supporting arguments for purchase of the rail corridor are numerous and compelling.    The economic and societal benefits range between $8M – $12M annually and would have a transformational impact on Lee County.   At a minimum those benefits include increases and diversification of the tourism economy, additional revenues and taxes from trail users and trail supporting businesses, increases in property values, growth of area businesses, improvements in livability and access to natural resources, workforce transportation and job creation as well as economic benefits associated with improvements in water quality and flood control.  

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