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!
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!
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!
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 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.
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 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 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!”
Friends of the Legacy Trail President Chuck Butterfield sent the following FLT email to County Commissioners prior to the 1 April County Commissioners meeting concerning extending The Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota.
[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, 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.
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.
[March 2015] After several months of review by the Sarasota County staff, the Legacy Trail Extension Feasibility Study is now completed. The study recommends “that the County proceed with the design and construction of the Legacy Trail Extension using the rails-to-trails option with the purchase of the rail corridor.” Cardno, Inc., the study authors, estimated the construction cost of $16.8M including environmental cleanup. The full Legacy Trail Feasibility Study – Final. (without appendices) is available for review and download. Caution: this is a large, 28 MB file.
Trail Extension Brochure
[January 2015] FLT has prepared a Legacy Trail Extension Brochure. It contains trail maps, a summary of the benefits, and actions you can take to support bringing this multi use, non-motorized trail to downtown Sarasota.
Draft Feasibility Study Completed
[December 2014] We’ve taken another significant step forward in the vision to extend The Legacy Trail to the heart of downtown Sarasota. Sarasota County had awarded a Feasibility Study contract to Cardno TBE in March 2014. Larry Mau, Brach Manager of Sarasota Cardno office, provided an overview of the results of the draft Feasibility Study at the 2 December 2014 FLT meeting, just prior to delivering the draft report to the County.
Perhaps the two most important outcomes of the feasibility study are: (1)there are no unexpected major barriers to extend the trail along the existing rail corridor; (2) to recommend extending the trail to the center of the east side of the 29 acre Payne Park, the symbolic center of downtown Sarasota, located at the intersection of South School Avenue and Shopping Lane.
The study was initially delayed this spring while Cardno and Sarasota County sought permission and paid a permit fee to Seminole Gulf Railway, the leaseholder of the rail corridor from CSX Corporation, before gaining access to begin the site assessment.
The site visit found a number of siding and spur lines along the primary path. Many areas of the north-south leg of the corridor will require removing overgrown vegetation and regrading drainage ditches along the side of the rail line. In contrast, the east-west leg is fairly wide open and will require less work. There are two rail trestles in the corridor. Both are in good condition as are the steel rails, but many areas of the rail ties are substantially deteriorated.
The study identified CSX as the near sole exclusive landowner, though there appears to be a few areas of encroachment within the 100 foot right of way, including landscaping from abutting homeowners.
There are thirteen roadway crossings, some where the rail crossing on the roadway is in good condition, and others not. The study looked at road traffic volume, land configuration, and sight distances at these intersections. There are four major, heavy volume intersections at Clark, Beneva, Tuttle and Bee Ridge. To minimize the initial construction cost, the study assumes deferring building trail overpasses in favor of signage, traffic signals, and safe harbors in the middle of these intersections. The installed costs of these measures were not offered. Two pre-fabricated bridges are required to carry the trail over two Philippi Creak canals: an estimated 150 foot crossing north of Bahia Vista; the other a 75 foot crossing west of Beneva Road.
Cardno looked at two trail design options: retain the rails with an adjacent trail, or replace the rails with a trail. Cardno concludes either option is feasible and there is little benefit to retain the rails. The study proposes two types of trails: (1) a combined 14 foot wide trail consisting of a 6 foot wide pedestrian path and an 8 foot wide cycling/roller blading path; (2) a 16 foot wide trail double trails consisting of a six wide path for pedestrians and a ten foot wide path for bicycle/roller blading. The double or separated segments would combine in a single path within 65 feet of intersections.
The study proposes shelters spaced one mile apart, trail heads with parking spaces every two miles, and SCAT bus transit connection points.
There was some discussion on the extent of possible environmental contamination along the rail corridor. Larry noted than no obvious areas were noted in the assessment. A more detailed environmental sampling and analysis would be required to confirm this assumption.
The draft report was still under review by Cardno, and Larry was not able at the meeting to offer any land acquisition or construction estimates.
Cardno submitted the draft report to Sarasota County on 10 December, with a final report expected by mid-February 2015. Sarasota County staff will now begin to review the draft report. The final report, along with County staff analysis and recommendations, will be presented to the Sarasota County Commissioners in the next few months. A word of caution – this is a feasibility study subject to changes.
Stay tuned for details on the date and time for any public hearings, and how you can lend your voice to shape the outcome!