The new $80 million air traffic control tower at Southwest Florida International Airport towers over its predecessor, standing at 225 feet, about 20 stories above the ground, and situated east of the airport’s lone runway.
The original tower, built almost 40 years ago in 1982, stands just 120 feet, about 10 stories above the ground and west of the runway.
The new tower is the only one of its kind in the United States built without federal funding, breaking ground in August 2019. Although it appears finished, it’s far from operational. In January, the Lee County Port Authority will hand it over to the Federal Aviation Administration for installation of the equipment, which will take about a year. The tower will be operational in late 2022 or early 2023.
Lee County officials opted to fund and build the tower because they didn’t want to wait in line for federal funding.
Airport and rental car fees are paying for $40 million of the construction costs. The other half is being paid for by the state. No Lee County property tax funds were used for this project.
“We’re very grateful to the state of Florida to come up with $40 million,” said Ben Siegel, executive director of the Lee County Port Authority. “The reason we went ahead and built this tower the way we did and funded it the way we did, was to ensure we’re ready for the parallel runway when it was needed. And again, it’s estimated 15-plus years from now. We didn’t want to be in a position where the parallel runway was ready to go, and we didn’t have a tower in place.”
Building the tower east of the runway will position it in between the current runway and the envisioned second runway, which likely won’t be built until the 2030s.
Fewer than 70,000 passengers used the airport in October 1983, the first year records were kept at RSW. Just fewer than 770,000 passengers used the airport in October 2021. That’s more than a 1,000% increase.
Because the port authority handled the project, it had a say in all matters of the design. This allowed the county to enhance the architecture and the aesthetics, said David Woods, principal and program manager for Atlanta-based POND Aviation, who served as lead architect.
“This is designed for the future runway,” Woods said. “We designed everything to accommodate the FAA.”
The tower’s base will serve as the home of TRACON, or Terminal Radar Approach Control, which controls airspace delegated from the Miami Center to operate within a 30-mile radius of RSW and up to 10,000 feet.
The Fort Myers TRACON facility also will provide air traffic services for the airports in Naples, Page Field, Punta Gorda, Marco Island, LaBelle and Immokalee.
The TRACON facility will support 10 operational jobs and can expand up to 12.
By the Numbers
225: concrete piles driven to a depth of 75-plus feet as the tower foundation
4.7 million: estimated weight of the rebar used
450: pieces of precast, weighing about 8.5 million pounds
5: length, in miles, of conduit infrastructure