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.
FLT 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.
The 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!