Category Archives: Extension News

FLT Organizes Commissioner Tours of the North Port Connector Route Alternatives

by Roger Normand

Friends of the Legacy Trail sponsored two tours in May for Sarasota County and City of North Port commissioners to view and experience two alternative routes from the Legacy Trail in Venice to North Port. 

As part of the passage of the referendum, $2 million will be put toward a connector route. Both routes currently being considered rejoin at the eastern end of Border Road. The alternatives include:

  • Entering the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve and enhancing the existing nine-mile packed-surface South Power Line Trail to Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port.
  • Continuing along the lightly used paved South Moon Drive and Forbes Trail into Deer Prairie Creek Preserve and Schewe Ranch and creating a new three-mile paved or packed-surface trail to West Price Boulevard in North Port.   

While the County has made commendable progress to prepare the bonding documents to secure funding and develop its plans and requirements for design and engineering support to extend the Legacy Trail to Sarasota, progress on route selection for the North Port connection has not been as proactive. For example, there has been no effort to develop a cost analysis on the routes.

In Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. From left to right: North Port Commissioner Jill Luke, Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler, Friends of The Legacy Trail Board Director Roger Normand, and Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines.

In organizing the tour, FLT wanted to bring visibility to and promote dialog on the unique opportunities and challenges with both routes. FLT created an objective list of the pros and cons of each route, which were presented to the commissioners for consideration during the tour. We invited all County and City commissioners, and four participated: County Commissioner Charles Hines rode with City Commissioner Jill Luke on the first tour, while County Commissioner Christian Ziegler rode with North Port Vice Mayor Debbie McDowell on the second tour. We worked with County staff to arrange for the necessary four-wheel-drive vehicle for the rough terrain, and coordinated with park managers from the Carlton Reserve and Deer Prairie Creek Preserve who drove the vehicles and provided valuable insights on park conditions. 

On the Carlton Reserve South Power Line Trail. From left to right: Sarasota County Natural Areas and Trails Division Manager Jon Robinson, Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler, North Port Vice Mayor Debbie McDowell, Friends of the Legacy Trail Board Director Roger Normand, Friends of the Legacy Trail North Port Coordinator Sharon Donovan.

Everyone was grateful for the opportunity to get an on-the-ground perspective. Vice Mayor McDowell perhaps said it best: “I am so glad I took the tour…. Seeing the trail path, in person, gave me a unique perspective compared to just a line on a map. THANK YOU.”

FLT will soon be providing the County and City with our recommendations. The County and City will ultimately make the decision, based on costs, environmental impacts, feasibility, and a number of other factors, and there will be public comment periods to inform the communities of their plans. As always, FLT welcomes input from our members and we are in need of volunteers in North Port who can help us enhance and support the connector route. Either one of the routes will provide a beautiful natural experience for cyclists and others.

Trail Extension News – June 2019

by Roger Normand

Looking North to Downtown Sarasota

We are on the cusp of realizing a remarkable milestone to extend the Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota.  Suddenly, unbelievably, our vision for a paved, multiuse path along the abandoned, unsightly rail corridor that stretches from Culverhouse Nature Park to Payne Park and Fruitville will, by the end of this month, become County property.  That’s a critical precursor to proceeding with the design and engineering of the trail extension.  Our six year quest, capped by the astounding support of 71 percent of County voters during the November 2018 referendum to extend the Legacy Trail IS REALLY HAPPENING!

Much has been going on behind the scenes to proceed with the purchase:      

  • The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Sarasota County completed their due diligence review (environmental assessment, title search, boundary survey, leases and encroachment issues). All concerns were resolved satisfactorily.
  • The County completed its competitive solicitation process and selected Kimley-Horne and Associates for design and engineering support for the extension.  The County is now finalizing the scope of work, which will include cost analysis and design for the North Port connection.  The contract is expected to be submitted to the County Commissioners by July 10 for approval.
  • On June 4, the County will be selling $37 million in general obligation bonds (of the $65 million authorized in the referendum) to purchase the rail corridor and pay for initial design and engineering of the trail extension.  It also includes $2 million for the North Port connection.  Contact your financial institution if you’d like to hold some of these bonds in your portfolio!
  • The County and Florida Department of Transportation have agreed to realign $8.5 million in FL SUN Trail funds provided for the extension to Ashton Road.  FDOT will retain the funds and now be responsible for the design, bidding and construction of both the Bee Ridge and Clark Road overpasses.  This resolves a timing issue (the SUN funds were programmed in 2022/2023), and allows the County to proceed with the immediate design and accelerated construction of the flat trail.  The design and construction of the Clark Road trail overpass is particularly  complicated: FDOT plans to simultaneously straighten the McIntosh Road intersection so the overpass carries trail uses across both Clark and McIntosh Roads.
  •   We can expect TPL and the County to close on the purchase from CSX ~ June 25, with a public event celebrating the milestone a few days later.  We plan to mobilize our FLT member “yellow shirt brigade” at the event.  We will issue an email blast once the County finalizes the timing and location. 

Trail supporters, June will truly be a remarkable month.

Trail Extension Project Expedited!

by Steve Martin

Thanks to very diligent work by the county commissioners, county staff, and FDOT, the projected schedule for the northern extension has been considerably expedited. It is now estimated that the ground level trail (excluding highway overpasses) will be completed in 2022! (The previous estimate for completion, including overpasses, was December 2024.)

Change of plans:  FDOT will now pay for and build the overpasses for Clark and Bee Ridge Roads.

  • Previous Plan:  FDOT was to give the county $1M for the Clark Road overpass design, and $7.5M in fiscal year 2022-2023 to help with construction of the Phase 1 part of the trail (current northern terminus to Ashton Rd).  This meant that Phase 1 construction could not be started until 2023.
  • The New Plan:  Instead of giving the above $8.5M to the county, FDOT will pay for the design and construction of the overpasses over Clark and Bee Ridge roads.  The county will now pay for all construction of the ground level trail. This removes the restriction on when Phase 1 construction can begin.  There are several segments to the extension that have been identified and the order in which the segments will be completed will be addressed by the design firm.  FDOT does not have a schedule for completing the overpasses at this time.

The county has received approval from the Federal Surface Transportation Board to use the rail corridor as a trail.

The county expects to sign a contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. for design of the trail, which will include a study of the cost of routes to North Port, by June 5.

It is anticipated that the county will close on the purchase of rail corridor on or before June 30th.

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Trail Extension News – May 2019

by Roger Normand

In conducting its due diligence, the Trust for Public Land and the County have discovered numerous encroachments into the rail corridor by adjacent residential property owners. 

The Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on April 23rd unanimously approved extending the diligence phase from April 30 to May 21.  This may similarly delay, but not jeopardize, the 30 May settlement date to acquire the rail corridor from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road. 

The BCC previously had unanimously approved proceeding to issue up to $37 million in County general obligation bonds, and adopt internal management actions to acquire and manage the extension project.

County seeks bond funds for Legacy Trail Extension

Taking the first visible step to implement the will of County voters, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners (BCC) unanimously approved a resolution on January 29, 2019, to seek up to $65 million in new bond funds to finance the extension of the Legacy Trail.  County voters overwhelmingly approved the measure on the November 6, 2018 ballot to extend the trail along the abandoned rail corridor past Payne Park to Fruitville Road in downtown Sarasota, and better connect the city of North Port to the Legacy Trail.

Speaking on behalf of all trail users and advocates, Friends of the Legacy Trail Vice President Louis Kosiba thanked the commissioners for their unwavering support at every key decision point over the last six years for extending the Legacy Trail.  “Thank you for placing this issue before the voters. Thank you for your support to move the Legacy Trail Project along quickly so that citizens and visitors can enjoy a beautiful linear park which will connect the major cities across our county.  I would also like to thank the County’s administrative staff for their dedication and hard work to ensure The Legacy Trail is and will be the premier multi-use trail in Southwest Florida”.

“This is a big deal,” Commission Chairman Charles Hines said. “This is a major step, and I’m very excited we’re moving this forward as quickly as possible.”

The County will seek the bond funds in at least two series.  The County must move quickly to the bond market to secure $30.1 million needed by May 30, 2019 to close on the segment of rail corridor from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road.  This timing is per the August 2017 purchase contract with the Trust for Public Land, which negotiated the acquisition with CSX Transportation on behalf of the County.

The county plans to initially seek a total of $35 million in bonds.  This amount includes $2.0 million to better connect the City of North Port to the Legacy Trail, and $2.9 million to cover the cost of issuing the bond. It also includes funds to hire a planning and design firm for the entire rail corridor from Fruitville Road to Culverhouse Nature Park.  The County purchased the Culverhouse Park to Ashton Road segment in December 2017 under the terms of the same contract.  The County will pursue a second draw of bond funds to begin actual construction.

This is great news on several fronts: the new BCC remains committed to extending the Legacy Trail; they are moving promptly to secure the money to purchase the corridor AND hire professionals to begin the formal design process; it includes the promised $2 million for the North Port connection, even though no decision has been made on the actual route and cost.

Meanwhile, the Trust for Public Land and the County continue with the due diligence review (environmental assessment, title search, boundary survey, resolution of easements) without any showstoppers.  The due diligence must be completed by April 30, 2019 to enable settlement on 30 May, 2019.

Trail Extension News – January 2019

by Roger Normand

Big Yay! Funding for the extension has been secured, thanks to the overwhelming voter support for a $65 million bond referendum on the November 6, 2018, countywide general election. Now it’s on to those “pesky” implementation details! There are several key contractual dates (and some wiggle room) for the purchase of the rail corridor that were triggered by passage of the referendum:

  • April 30, 2019.  The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Sarasota County (the County) must complete the due diligence review of the rail corridor from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road.
  • May 30, 2019.  TPL and the county must close on the $30.1 million purchase for the property with the sellers, CSX Transportation, Inc. and the Atlantic Land and Improvement Company, and its lessee, Seminole Gulf Railway. This date is contingent upon the County and TPL accepting the findings of the due diligence review, and Seminole Gulf obtaining the expected approval from the Federal Surface Transportation Board to “railbank” the corridor for use as a trail.
  • November 29, 2019 (180 days after closing).  Seminole Gulf must complete removal of the rails, switches, and signal equipment. Note that the County is responsible for removals at highway crossings.

The due diligence process is identical to and uses many of the same participants as those that were previously used for the December 2017 rail corridor acquisition from the existing Legacy Trail termination at Culverhouse Nature Park to Ashton Road. All these efforts are underway:

  • A phase 1 (walking the corridor, historical record research) and phase 2 (soil sampling) physical and environmental assessment.
  • Title search, including a review of leases, licenses, easements, and agreements.
  • Boundary survey and resolution on any encroachment concerns.

From the President – January 2019

by Roger Normand, President, FLT

Out with the old, in with the new. New Year’s is a time to reflect on the past and look with optimism to the future. 2018 will remain a truly pivotal year for Legacy Trail enthusiasts and our community.

Achieving 71 percent voter endorsement, sweeping 100 out of 101 of the county precincts for a $65 million bond on the November ballot to extend the Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota and better connect the city of North Port is astounding! I’m mindful that this euphoria is the result of countless, seemingly endless, energy-sapping hours of very hard work over six years by your Board of Directors, our volunteers, and partners to advocate throughout the County for the extension. We have a deep-seated satisfaction knowing how fundamentally this effort will benefit the health, safety, recreation, transportation, and economics of our community for generations to come.

Barring some unforeseen calamity, I have high confidence that the extension is on autopilot and will be built. So looking to the next few years, where should FLT focus its efforts? There are so many opportunities, like showcasing the unique character of our community along the new and existing trail, enhancing connections to the trail, and improving trail safety, to name but a few. Your Board of Directors will meet in January to decide how we can be most effective. I welcome your thoughts but would value even more your offer to help with your time and energy. In an all-volunteer organization like FLT, availability of committed people is often the limiting factor in what can be pursued. If you have a passion to make the trail a better place, please contact me here.

I would also like to publicly acknowledge the immense contributions by Andrea Seager, who served with me as co-chair of the Trail Extension Subcommittee and was FLT’s board secretary for the last few years. A resident of downtown Sarasota, Andrea was the dynamic force for a multitude of extension advocacy efforts, such as the development of the unique extension logo, creation of FLT referendum literature, speaking to government officials and individuals, doing radio interviews, giving presentations, and getting FLT info table space at Sarasota Farmers Market. All summer, she marshalled board members and volunteers to work together to get the referendum passed. Andrea has stepped away from FLT leadership to take care of other life priorities. Andrea, THANK YOU; we’ll see you on the trail.

President’s Corner – December 2018

From the President –

Thanksgiving is a time to express thanks. I’m honored to serve as the President of FLT, and thankful for the 12 other members of your Board of Directors. Each is passionate, bright, diligent, energetic, and self-motivated. They selflessly volunteer their time and energy to “support, promote, enhance, and protect The Legacy Trail and its connectors now and for future generations.”

I’m thankful for the unwavering support of local governments and their staff to embrace and value the many benefits to our community for a longer trail.

I’m thankful for the incredible efforts put forward by our volunteers and supporters who worked tirelessly for years to advocate for the extension.

I am most thankful for the 137,853 (71%) Sarasota County voters who not only agreed that investing in a multi-use, non-motorized trail connection between Sarasota and North Port was a worthy goal, but were willing to tax themselves to pay for it. You are each honorary Friends of the Legacy Trail members (we welcome you to join our 1,000 dues paying members)!

We have been singularly focused on advocacy for the extension. With funding now guaranteed, we will now chart a new set of FLT priorities to guide us for the next few years. The overwhelming margin of support gives us a strong “trail wind.” I’d welcome your suggestions on how we proceed. Contact me here.

Roger Normand, President
Friends of The Legacy Trail

It’s a Go!!!!

by Roger Normand, President FLT

Legacy Trail lovers, we are on our way to extending our beloved trail to the city of Sarasota and improved connectivity to North Port!

Surprising even the most optimistic Legacy Trail supporters, the Sarasota County-wide ballot issue garnered an ASTOUNDING 71% YES vote for a $65 million bond to extend the trail, sweeping 100 of 101 county precincts! That’s remarkable in a county that prides itself with keeping tax rates among the lowest in the state of Florida. Yet at every decision point, dating back to August 2013 when the county and Friends of the Legacy Trail (FLT) jointly funded a Feasibility Study, the Commissioners have methodically and unanimously endorsed taking the next step forward in pursuing the extension.

County residents emphatically reaffirmed the Commission’s actions by agreeing this was a worthy investment to improve safety, enhance health and quality of life, and provide substantial economic benefits to our community!

Such a massive win at the ballot box does not come without a herculean advocacy effort from your FLT Board, volunteers, and a growing network of supporters. We are also grateful for the efforts of the Trust for Public Lands (TPL). As a 501(c)(3), we were limited by law in promoting VOTE YES for the referendum. TPL established a political committee with individuals from across the political spectrum who were recognized and respected in the community. They raised funds, sought endorsements, and ran the Vote Yes campaign.

We also forged key alliances with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Implementation efforts have already started, with county planning processes and the contractual due diligence review of the corridor underway. North Port Commissioners are excited to proceed.

As an often-heard local commercial proclaims, THIS IS A HUGE win for our community.

We will keep you informed through the future planning and implementation efforts!