Refining Gulf Coast Trail Routes

by Roger Normand

TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) held its second workshop of the year on March 29th in Sarasota with representatives of the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT), FDOT, Counties, MPO, and community advocates including the Friends of the Legacy Trail.  The diverse group met to refine proposed routes for the Gulf Coast Trail and enhance regional coordination.  This non motorized, off road, multi use trail will span from St Pete to Naples as part of the Florida SUN (Shared Use, Non motorized) statewide network of connected regional trails.  Updated maps are due to OGT by June 30 to compete for the next cycle of $25 million in annual SUN trail funds.

The most noticeable change in maps for the Sarasota/Manatee area is pursuing two alternate routes as the Gulf Coast trail leaves Hillsborough County and enters Manatee county: a Western Coastal Route would head west along the Willow Allentown Trail then south along Anna Marie Island and Longboat Key, returning to the mainland on the Ringling Bridge; An Eastern Wilderness Trail would head east then south along the Gateway-Greenway trail traversing county lands, through Babcock Ranch (a major new planned community east of I-75), reaching Fruitville Road in Sarasota.  Both routes would unite in Payne Park before heading south along the Legacy Trail, Venetian Waterway, and along Manasota Key Road.  Click here for a map of the proposed routes.

County Commits First $ To Trail Extension

by Roger Normand

To the delight of Legacy Trail supporters, County Commissioners committed $8.6 million to buy the land for a 7.5 mile trail extension. No previous funds had been identified. It was the first visible step in turning vision to reality for extending the existing 10.6 mile trail along an unused rail corridor into a multi-use paved path to Payne Park. Once built, the 175,000 annual users could quickly double as the trail reaches the urban core of the City of Sarasota.

The County Commissioners identified the funds during a March 29th day-long budget review session to align funds with established priorities for the County’s FY 2018 program. As Commissioner Hines noted, “The Legacy Trail is a big picture effort with broad county, public and private support. It is a priority, so we have to start building a pot of funds for it.” This was the second of six planned monthly budget meetings before the start of the new fiscal year which begins on October 1, 2017.

County Commissioners decided to use $0.9 million in available mobility fees, eliminate two lower priority proposed park purchases in the County’s Neighborhood Parkland Program ($2.6 million to acquire the Myakka River Oyster Bar site and $4.0 million for the Vamo Drive site) and commit up to $1.5 million in expected new revenue coming into the program at the beginning of FY-18 and apply these assets towards the purchase of the corridor.

While enthusiasm ruled the day, the County must still identify another $11.4 million by this December to meet the terms of the $20 million, Phase 1 sale contract negotiated by its partner the Trust for Public Land with corridor owner CSX Corporation.  This first increment would purchase the rail corridor from the northern end of the trail at Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista.  We hope the next several budget workshops will identify the remaining $11.4 million funds consistent with the Phase 1 terms.

Phase 2 requires another $18M no later than March 2019 to bring the trail from Bahia Vista to Payne Park and Fruitville Road.  The County estimates the total land acquisition and construction cost at $56 to $60 million.

The fate of the State Representative Gruters HB 2109 bill now in the Florida Legislature to provide $15 million for the Legacy Trail remains uncertain.  However, the $8.6 million signals the County’s commitment to extend the Legacy Trail, and will certainly buttress efforts already underway to attract other public and private funds.  We commend the County staff and Commissioners for making this substantial initial commitment for the Legacy Trail.