First North Extension segment of Legacy Trail expected to open in mid-summer

County Commission approves about $12 million in construction contract amendment to encompass paved North Port connector and work on Pompano Trailhead

When it is completed, The Legacy Trail will encompass nearly 30 miles, and the segments will be within 2 linear miles of 48 schools, as well as numerous neighborhoods, county staff has pointed out. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Over the past year, Nicole Rissler, director of Sarasota County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), has noted on a number of occasions that she often is asked when people will be able to use the North Extension of The Legacy Trail.

Providing an update to the County Commission on April 6, Rissler had an answer regarding the first stretch, from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota: “Segment 1 will be substantially complete … in mid-summer 2021.”

The asphalt work is almost finished, she pointed out, and the concrete work — including sidewalk construction — and installation of the traffic signals at the intersections of Bahia Vista Street, Webber Street and Proctor Road “are also well underway,” she said.

If all goes as planned, she added, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held to mark the opening of the first segment before the board members begin their annual summer break the week of July 19.

Segments 2 and 3 — which will cover the rest of the North Extension from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota — are anticipated to be finished in early 2022, Rissler said.

This graphic shows the three segments of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Two of the three new trailheads — those on Webber Street and Ashton Road — “are under construction as we speak,” she pointed out. They also are expected to be completed in early 2022, in conjunction with the schedule for Segments 2 and 3, Rissler noted.

Construction of the Pompano Trailhead, next to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, is anticipated to get underway by the middle of this year, Rissler said, with completion in mid- to late 2022.

That trailhead will have lighted, dedicated pickleball courts, a community center and a bicycle safety course, she has reported in the past.

“These are three additional parks that are coming into the community,” Commissioner Michael Moran emphasized. “I just think it’s very important for the public taxpayer to know: This is well beyond a bike trail project.”

Along with those trailhead initiatives, Rissler told the board, staff is at work on improvements to Culverhouse Nature Park, even though that is a separate initiative from the extensions of the Trail. A restroom and parking upgrades are the primary facets of that undertaking, she added, which is expected to be completed late this year.

The North Port connectors

Along with those updates, Rissler explained facets of the three Legacy Trail connectors to North Port.

She reminded the commissioners that they committed $2 million to those aspects of the Trail’s improvements early on, after more than 70% of the voters who cast ballots on the Legacy Trail Extension referendum in November 2018 approved the issuance of $65 million in bonds for the overall project.

This map shows the three North Port connectors of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Rissler showed the board members the South Powerline Trail, on which almost 7 of the 9 miles already have been improved. That trail — ideal for mountain bikes, as Commissioner Christian Ziegler noted — will connect the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, located at 6968 Reisterstown Road in North Port, through Big Slough and the Carlton Preserve. Those improvements will cost about $325,000, Rissler said, with the money coming out of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources operating funds instead of bond proceeds.

Turning to Route 2, a bridge planned over Deer Prairie Creek was not scheduled for construction until Fiscal Year 2024, Rissler said. However, thanks to “some economies of scale,” she added, staff will go ahead and build it early, saving about $500,000. Route 2 will connect to Wellen Park, the West Villages and the City of North Port.

“This is going to be an incredible amenity for North Port,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler pointed out, especially given the number of neighborhoods in the area of Route 2. Instead of riding their bikes in the road, he added, children likely will take to the bridge.

Finally, Route 3 will run parallel to Interstate 75 at the outset before making a 90-degree turn to head toward West Price Boulevard. The design of that connector is about 90% complete, Rissler said, “and permitting applications are well underway.”

Route 3 will be the paved connector, she noted. Ultimately, she reminded the board members, it will connect to Warm Mineral Springs.

This graphic provides details on the history of the construction of the extensions of the Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When Commissioner Ron Cutsinger asked about the plans for the latter portion of the North Port Route 3, Rissler explained, “We’re simply waiting on [the City of] North Port to come back with their master plan for Warm Mineral Springs.” She added, “We did not want to truly build a trail to nowhere.”

The design for that connector has been completed, she pointed out.

Once all three of those North Port routes are complete, Rissler said, they will represent more than $7.2 million in construction expenses, instead of the original $2 million.

Approximately $3.6 million of the money will come from sources other than bond funds, she said; South County impact fees will cover part of the expense.

Cutsinger stressed the fact that the North Port improvements to the Trail will be “above and beyond what we promised.”

“I’m glad to have this moment to showcase how much we’re spending [on them],” Commissioner Nancy Detert said. “They said it would never happen,” she added of North Port leaders.

When Detert asked for assurance that Route 3 will “look like all the rest of the Trail,” Rissler replied, “Yes.”

Later that morning, the commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the county’s contract with Jon F. Swift Construction of Sarasota for the paved North Port connector and the Pompano Trailhead. The Guaranteed Maximum Price for those projects will be $12,606,829, a county staff memo said.

This is another graphic Nicole Rissler showed the commissioners on April 6. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Swift contract increased to $36,537,622, based on details in that memo.

The funds will come out of revenue generated by the bonds approved during the November 2018 referendum, plus North County and South County Park Impact Fees and $1 million from the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP), Rissler explained.

The ESLPP money will be dedicated to the North Port paved connector, a county staff memo noted.

As a result of the board’s approval of the contract amendment, Rissler said, construction of the Route 3 connector to North Port is expected to start this summer, along with the work on the Pompano Trailhead. Staff hopes those initiatives will be completed in the fall of 2022, she added. “That is well over two years ahead of where we originally thought we would be.”

The final portions of The Legacy Trail North Extension will be overpasses at Bee Ridge and Clark roads, which the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will construct, Chair Alan Maio noted.

The most recent update to FDOT’s Five Year Work Program, dated March 3, shows construction of those overpasses scheduled for the 2023 fiscal year, which will begin on July 1, 2023. The total amount allocated to those projects is $7,839,999.

This chart shows facets of the Legacy Trail overpass projects planned for Clark and Bee Ridge roads. Image courtesy FDOT

Rissler further noted that the Office of the County Attorney and attorneys on staff for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) were close to wrapping up work on an agreement between the county and the water district to enable the county to manage the Schewe Preserve after that paved connector to North Port has been constructed through part of that property.

“I don’t anticipate any issues,” she said, that would stall the conclusion of the negotiations.

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