Category Archives: Extension News

Amid Stiff Competition, SW Coastal Trail Places 3rd

by Roger Normand

The Florida Greenways and Trails Council (FGTC) selected the The St. Johns River to the Sea Loop as the next regional trail for SUN Trail funds at an all-day conference in Tallahassee on March 30th.  This mostly rural trail, which crosses five counties in the upper east central portion of Florida around St Augustine, is now eligible for about $8 million per year in “Tier II” Sun Trail funds provided by the Florida Legislature in 2015 until the trail is completed.

southwest-regional-trail-260pxThe Capital City to Sea Trail, centered around Tallahassee and four counties, came in second place. The 280 mile South West Coastal Trail, which spans seven counties from St Pete through Sarasota (including the Legacy Trail) to Naples, came in third place among the seven finalist regional trails across Florida.

I went to Tallahassee on behalf of the Friends of The Legacy Trail as part of the team promoting the SW Coastal Trail.  Our entire team had worked very hard and was optimistic.  We had the most letters of endorsement from major community entities.

[See Letters of Endorsement ]

We were superbly represented.  Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, gave the SW Coastal Trail briefing slides highlighting the substantial safety, ecotourism, and economic development opportunities.  Dave Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization participated.  Here were the top regional transportation planners (usually synonymous with road builder) spending the  day pitching trail building to the FGTC!  Mark Cunningham, Sarasota County Deputy Administrator and, Paula Wiggins, the county Transportation Planning Manager gave a superb presentation about the Legacy Trail and ongoing efforts to extend it.

text-box-260But as I listened to the individual presentations, my optimism about the superiority of the SW Coastal trail morphed into admiration for all that was being done building local and regional trails across the state.  The FGTC staff had scored all the trails nearly equally against 10 criteria – no help picking the single best.  Representatives for each regional trail gave convincing presentations on the merits of their regional trail.  We had the “A” team making our best case for selecting the SW Coastal Trail.  But by the end of the presentations, I wasn’t sure which single trail I would pick if I was on the FGTC.

So we came in third place in a state wide regional trail building competition.  That’s certainly something to be very proud of.  FDOT, which administers the SUN Trail funding and implementation, had told the FGTC they would recognize the top three regional trails for “Tier II” SUN Trail funding.  As the third place finisher, we are now on the FDOT radar should the St John or Capital Cities trail be unable to spend all the funds in a given year, a remote but not unheard of situation.  And The Legacy Trail will certainly be competitive for some of the annual $8 million “Tier III” funds for individual trail projects across the state.  FDOT will begin the “Tier III” selection process this summer.

After the deliberations were concluded, many of the FGTC members commented about how the outstanding trail building opportunities far exceeded the $25 million annual SUN Trail funding (the Coast to Coast trail from St Pete to Titusville gets “Tier I” $8 million per year).  Perhaps the next FGTC and others should consider taking this message back to the Legislature.

We have established important connections with key organizations, and who knows what dividends that offers in the future.

Competing For SUN Trail Funding

by Roger Normand

The Southwest Coastal Trail, which extends from Tampa to Naples and includes the Legacy Trail, is one of seven regional multi-use trails competing for access to $25 million in annual Florida SUN (Shared Use Non-motorized) Trail funding.  A recommendation is expected by the Florida Greenways and Trails Council (FGTC) at a public meeting scheduled for March 31, 2016 in Tallahassee.

sw-coastal-trail-logo-300FLT and our recently formed Trail Extension Committee has focused on promoting the Southwest Coastal Trail and the opportunity to use the funds locally for the extension of the Legacy Trail, as well as to connect the Legacy Trail into part of a much larger interconnected trail network.  We are proud to say we helped shape the FGTC selection criteria; FGTC adopted our proposed criteria that the regional alliance “demonstrates broad and persistent community support” for the regional trail system.  We believe the Legacy Trail component of the Southwest Coast Trail will score very favorably on this element as well as the other nine criteria.

We have contacted numerous major organizations and local governments urging them to write letters of endorsement to FGTC.  The FLT endorsement letter is here and the endorsement letter sent by Sarasota County is here.  Representatives from FLT and Sarasota County will be attending the FGTC meeting in Tallahassee to speak on behalf of the Southwest Coastal Trail, and also to learn what other trail pioneers are doing.

southwest-regional-trailThe SUN Trail network emphasizes trails of regional importance.  We believe we have a strong coalition of supporters for the Southwest Coastal Trail: Executive Directors from the Metropolitan Planning Offices (MPOs) representing Tampa Bay, Sarasota/Manatee, Pasco, Polk, Collier, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando/Citrus, Lee, and Charlotte/Punta Gorda counties have jointly signed a letter of support for the Southwest Coastal Trail.  MPOs are required by Federal and state statutes to coordinate regional transportation projects with The Florida Department of Transportation, The Federal Highway Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration.

The Florida legislature in 2015 enacted $25 million annually to promote SUN Trail regional non-motorized trails across the state.  The funds are intended to facilitate an interconnected system of multi-use trails by completing gaps between existing trails.  The funds come from new vehicle tag revenue.  Two Florida departments have leadership roles:  the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has management control of the selection process, while the Department of Transportation (FDOT) is the funds holder and construction agent.  After construction is completed, a local entity must take responsibility for continued maintenance, repairs, and future improvements.

The Florida legislature established the 21 member FGTC to advise the FDEP and recommend priorities for funding.  Eleven members represent trail and greenway users, while the rest are from various Florida agencies.  Selection of the Southwest Coastal Trail would also raise our visibility with the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation (FGTF).  Established as a non-profit charitable organization in 2002, FGTF raises private funds to support a statewide system of trails and greenways.

SUN Trail funding is already being used to support the 250 mile Coast to Coast Connector trail, which links St. Petersburg on the west coast to Titusville on the east coast.  It will, when completed, be a completely paved trail separate from the road system.  Should FGTC  select the Southwest Coast Trail for SUN Trail funding, imagine the possibility of cycling on a paved dedicated trail free of cars from Naples through Sarasota to St. Pete’s, and then across the state to Titusville.  This 400-mile trail will then be the longest paved, contiguous, non-motorized trail in the country!

 

State Trail Funding Group Adds An FLT-Recommended Selection Criterion

by Roger Normand

The Florida Greenway and Trails Council (FGTC) adopted a criterion proposed by FLT for eligibility to $25 million per year funding enacted by the 2014 Florida Legislature to fund a statewide network of paved and non-paved trails known as the SUN Trail!  We proposed, and FGTC agreed, to include a new criterion that a candidate project “demonstrate broad and persistent community support.”  Interestingly, FGTC lists our recommended criterion first among their 10 criteria.  

SUN Trail is an acronym for Shared-Use Non-motorized trail network that will link gaps between existing multi-use trails in the Florida Greenway & Trails System  (FGTS).  The Florida legislature directed two Florida agencies – DOT and the Environmental Protection Office of Greenways to work together on eligibility criteria and award funds.

Why is this important? It’s a potential funding source for the extension of The Legacy Trail!

It seemed like a no-brainer to us.  Why invest in building a new trail without evidence of depth and breath of community support? 

It should come as no surprise that FLT believes The Legacy Trail extension would score very well on this new criterion!   With the unanimous endorsement of the Sarasota Commissioners to pursue extending The Legacy Trail, the 120,000 estimated annual users of the existing The Legacy Trail, the 5,000+ and growing number of petitions FLT accumulated so far, and other actions undertaken by FLT, we believe we can be very competitive for SUN Trail funding to support the extension effort.   The Legacy Trail is a component of the FGTS, and the extension is listed as a trail gap.

We are entering a critical stage for the extension: an independent appraisal will establish a monetary value for the rail corridor.  That appraisal will be a benchmark for the County/TPL to negotiate a purchase price from CSX.

Once the parties agree on a purchase price, it’s good to know that one potential funding source is SUN Trail funding.  And that FLT helped to raise the odds in favor of The Legacy Trail!

County Back In Conductor Seat For Trail Extension

by Roger Normand

After some 9 months of “nothing new to report,” the month of February brought a fresh wave of rejuvenating good news to extend The Legacy Trail to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.

The best news was that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was terminating efforts to acquire the rail corridor from its owner, CSX Railroad, and returning that process back to Sarasota County.

FDOT efforts, begun last spring, were seen by many as a mixed blessing.  It began with word from CSX, not FDOT, that they were ceasing talks with the County amid discussions with FDOT acquiring 100 miles of rail corridor across the state, including The Legacy Trail extension.  FDOT later released a brief statement that their interest was to create multi-modal corridors – typically an urban corridor optimized for short and medium trips using transit lines (light rail, express bus) with an adjacent pedestrian and bicycling path.  Such corridors have been successfully used in a handful of states, according to Rails to Trails Conservancy.  It was considered but not recommended in the March 2015 County commissioned feasibility study to extend The Legacy Trail.

That FDOT has much deeper pockets to acquire the trail and finance construction than the County was viewed by many as a major potential benefit. However, despite periodic requests for updates, FDOT was never forthcoming about their plans.  Would The Legacy Trail extension be tied to time consuming conflicts at other locations?  Spring turned to summer, which begat fall, then winter.  Still no word from FDOT.  

Extension advocates were jubilant when the Sarasota County Commissioners unanimously accepted the Feasibility Study on April 1, 2015, and directed the County Executive to begin discussions with CSX and pursue an independent appraisal of the rail corridor.  All that momentum was surely slipping away behind closed doors in Tallahasee.

Fortunately, the County Commissioners shared the same concerns, prompting one Commissioner to meet with the FDOT Secretary in Tallahassee in early February.  Shortly afterwards, the County confirmed that FDOT “will be terminating their negotiations to acquire the right of way” from CSX.  “That shifts the next steps/negotiations back to Sarasota County for the portion that we are seeking.”

It remains unclear what progress, if any, FDOT made in acquiring any unused rail corridors from CSX. 

The County is now back in the conductors seat for the trail extension.   Hoorah!  The County reaffirmed they and partner The Trust for Public Land would promptly restart discussions with CSX.  Thank you to the County Commissioners for interceding and getting the extension back on track!

Featured photo courtesy of Sarasota County staff.

Extension Update – October 2015 – FDOT To Buy Trail Extension Corridor?

Trail Extension News

As you probably know, in April the Sarasota County Commissioners enthusiastically endorsed the plan to extend The Legacy Trail into downtown Sarasota and authorized staff to begin the next steps in the negotiations to purchase the land from the CSX Corporation.  Shortly thereafter, it was brought to light that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was also interested in buying approximately 100 miles of rail corridor in Florida from CSX, including the section that would be The Legacy Trail extension.

Here is the most recent official statement given to us by the County explaining where things stand right now:

FDOT has indicated to CSX that they are interested in purchasing approximately 100 miles of rail corridor throughout the state, which includes the 7.5 mile extension piece of The Legacy Trail.  Due to FDOT’s interest in multiple rail corridors, CSX has indicated that they are willing to allow FDOT to complete their due diligence and potentially make an offer prior to engaging in the county’s request to proceed with a cost sharing land appraisal between the Trust for Public Land, CSX and Sarasota County.

Preliminary discussions between Sarasota County and FDOT indicate the states willingness to partner with the county to achieve a mutually beneficial arrangement to implement a transportation multi-modal corridor within these lands.  Staff contacted FDOT on September 17, 2015 and they have indicated that discussions with CSX are ongoing.  FDOT is in the process of reviewing additional information recently requested and provided by CSX as part of the negotiation and due diligence process.  FDOT was unable to provide a tentative timeline for the completion of this review, but agreed to stay in contact with county staff and provide updates as they become available.

Although there are many uncertainties, we at FLT believe that the involvement of FDOT in the process is a positive factor in our effort to extend the trail.  Stay tuned!

County Commissioners Endorse Proceeding with Legacy Trail Extension

The Sarasota County Commissioners unanimously endorsed proceeding with extending The Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota at their 1 April 2015 meeting. The room was filled with many trail supporters wearing bright yellow FLT jerseys and others wearing colorful bike club jerseys. Thank you to the many Legacy Trail supporters for your visible support!

FLT supporters listen to the discussion on extending The Legacy Train
FLT supporters listen to the discussion on extending The Legacy Train

FLT Vice President Bruce Dillion began the discussion saying FLT had raised over $72 thousand in about a year to support the trail extension. There are more than 120,000 annual trail users. County Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator Patrick Lui then gave the Commissioners a summary of the Feasibility Study completed by Cardno TBE. Lui asked the Commissioners to (1) approve the Feasibility Study and (2) direct the County Administrator to proceed with land appraisals for the railroad corridor.

Patrick Lui presents the Feasibility Study
Patrick Lui presents the Feasibility Study

A enthusiastic discussion about the trail extension followed. Commissioner Caragiulo: “How do we find ways to do this?” “It absolutely needs to be done.” Commissioner Maio: “ We’ve done some 125 fund raising events, and people say this is the greatest thing the County has ever done.” “This is a top priority.” Commissioner Hines: “Let’s get a contract, subject to an appraisal and any environmental issues.” “Let’s get this moving. Figure out the cost and get the money.” Commissioner Robinson: “Both the North and South trail extensions are important.” “Proceed with appropriate speed. Let’s get going.” She also expressed concern about federal lawsuits on reversionary rights in rail corridor transfers to public use.

Doug Hattaway, Trust For Public Lands
Doug Hattaway, Trust For Public Lands

Doug Hattaway from the Trust for Public Lands was in attendance and was asked to speak. TPL negotiated the purchase of the existing Legacy Trail with CSX, and is involved with similar sales across the U.S. Hattaway urged the Commissioners to proceed with the appraisal to answer the question ‘how much money are you looking for.” He said CSX is open to a purchase proposal. When asked how long would this take, Hathaway replied TPL has a contract template they are using with CSX at other locations. He estimated 2 months to tailer the contract, then 3 months to do the appraisals. The county needed to develop an acquisition strategy and line up possible funding sources.

In addressing funding options, Lui stated that the County staff was pursuing a Federal Tiger Grant, as previously approved by the Commissioners. There are potential federal, state and local funds. Chairman Maio suggested that the proposed changes to local impact fees are a potential funding source. Commissioner Caragiulo said that the trail extension would be a great spine through the county. “I would be looking under every couch, garbage can or cabinet for this money, because it has to get done.” He suggested assigning a full time county employee to work funding opportunities.

FLT and Coastal Cruisers Bike Club members joined forces to support the trail extension
FLT, Coastal Cruisers,Village Idiots, and Sarasota Manatee Bike Club members join forces to support the trail extension

FLT appreciates the firm commitment from the Commissioners to both recommendations. We will continue to gather petitions and speaking engagements to build community support.

A video of the Commissioners discussion is available on the right hand sidebar.

“All aboard The Legacy Trail. Next stop, downtown Sarasota!”

Initiating the Feasibility Study

The Legacy Trail terminus at Culverhouse Nature Park
The Legacy Trail terminus at Culverhouse Nature Park

[Initially posted March 2014] The vision to extend The Legacy Train from it’s current terminus at Culverhouse Nature Park on McIntosh Road 8 miles north to downtown Sarasota has taken a giant leap forward with the beginning of a Feasibility Study. Sarasota County awarded the study on 14 March 2014 to Cardno TBE, an international infrastructure and environmental services company with offices throughout the U.S., including here in Sarasota. Cardno TBE is no stranger to this task, having studied building multi-use trails elsewhere, and managed construction of the two existing bridges spanning Dona Bay and Roberts Bay on The Legacy Trail.

Larry Mau of Cardo TBE explains The Legacy Trail Extension Study at a FLT mtg
Larry Mau of Cardo TBE explains The Legacy Trail Extension Study at a FLT mtg

Larry Mau, Branch Manager of the Sarasota office of Cardno TBE, provided an overview of the feasibility study at the April 2014 meeting of the Friends of The Legacy Trail. CSX owns the railroad right of way, and has leased the land to Seminole Gulf Railroad. The notional path extends the existing trail from the current terminus at Culverhouse Nature Park in a straight line along the rail corridor north to Fruitville Road, where it would hook west to Payne Park, then turn north and terminate at Ringling Blvd.

The study is expected to last about six months, with half that time gathering data, performing technical analyses, and mapping the corridor. The study is expected to conclude by December 2014 with a final report and cost estimate to be presented to the Sarasota County Commissioners.

The study will analyze the existing railroad corridor and consider aspects of extending the trail, including:

  • Whether to retain the tracks and construct an adjacent trail, or remove the existing railroad tracks and replace them with a hard surface trail bed.

    View of tacks from Sawyer Loop Road
    View of tacks from Sawyer Loop Road
  • Need for bridges over waterways and at roadway intersections.
    Physical properties of the corridor, such as soils, existing utilities.
  • Trail width (the existing trail is 12 feet wide), and consider the need to separate cyclists from pedestrians, particularly in the more congested downtown area.
  • Property ownership along the corridor.
  • Storm water management, including water retention ponds and wetlands.
  • Environmental site assessment, including the potential impact on threatened or endangered species.
  • Historical and cultural concerns.
  • Need for trail links to nearby schools, parking, SCAT bus service.
  • Number and location of shelters.

Stayed tuned for further updates!