Coast to Coast Florida bike trail could be getting a funding boost
Update: on 2 June 2014 Governor Scott signed this bill.
A bike path connecting St. Pete to Florida’s space coast may be getting a $15.5 million boost. State lawmakers passed a bill that would fund some projects along the Coast to Coast Connector planners having been hoping to finish for years.
“It took these people taking a 40,000 foot view to see all these little pieces that were actually on the ground and then they said, ‘why don’t you just connect these gaps?’”
That’s Steve Diez, the bike and pedestrian coordinator for the Hernando County Metropolitan Planning Organization. He met with other MPO leaders during a roundtable discussion Thursday morning. There are several trails between Pinellas County and Titusville, but there are still gaps separating them.
“It’ll be a huge, huge tourist attractor for all these counties and small towns to have people jump on their bikes and ride from coast to coast.”
Diez hopes some of the funding will go toward completing the Good Neighbor Trail.
“Which is the connection from downtown Brooksville to the Withlacoochee state trail. We didn’t know it at the time, but that has become one of the lynchpins in the coast to coast connector. It will actually be the connection from somewhere in Lake and Sumter County over through Hernando County to ultimately connect to the Suncoast Trail which is built and from there you go south through Pasco and Pinellas County.”
The bill was sent to Governor Rick Scott’s desk this legislative session. He has until June 4 to sign it. Last year, Scott vetoed $50 million for multiuse trails including the Coast to Coast Connector. The proposed funding this year isn’t near enough to get everything done, but Diez thinks this one may be more palatable to the governor.
“It’s a great gesture. It’s a good place to start. He vetoed the $50 million I guess cause he choked on the amount initially and it was designated. Now we have identified gaps. We have identified cost estimates – they may or may not be accurate – but at least they have somewhere to go, somewhere to throw the money.”
Since the bill hasn’t even been signed yet, planners aren’t really sure what to expect. The bill also restructures how the Florida Department of Transportation can spend money on multiuse trails. Under current law, FDOT isn’t allowed to use state funds for those projects. Lori Marable is the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the department’s district 7 which covers all of the counties in the Tampa Bay area.
“Really it’s coming up with a priority list and which ones do they want to fund. Do they want to just put all the dirt on the ground first or do we want to look and try to spread it out so that maybe each county gets a little bit or each district splits it up between the different gaps”
She says Pinellas County is the closest to having a plan ready for construction. That project would connect the Pinellas Trail to the Starkey Wilderness Trail and then onto the Suncoast Trail in Pasco County. Marable says the proposed funding isn’t likely to cover all of the gaps in the Tampa Bay area.
“No, that 15.5 would probably be close. If we got the whole 15.5, but I know we won’t.”
The group of MPO leaders meets about every two months. They’re working on finalizing a map of all the current and proposed trails along the Coast to Coast Connector. That map will also show which projects have been funded and includes other trails not connected to Coast to Coast.