Pouring of asphalt on stretch between Proctor Road and Bahia Vista Street expected to start in early 2021, county staff reports
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the firms constructing the North Extension of The Legacy Trail could start to pour asphalt on the segment between Proctor Road and Bahia Vista Street “probably right around the first of ,” Jon Robinson, manager of Sarasota County’s Natural Areas and Trails Division, said this week during a Facebook Live presentation.
Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), pointed out on Dec. 2 that people keep asking her, “When can I get on [the North Extension]?”
The first of the three segments of the North Extension should be open by this summer, Robinson replied, though he cautioned, “It’s not quite a connection.” Still, he said, he expects the 2-mile stretch between Proctor and Bahia Vista to be completed “by, say, mid-summer” of 2021.
At the suggestion of the design firm the county hired for the project — Kimley-Horn, which has an office in Sarasota — the North Extension was divided into three segments, Robinson explained. Officially, Segment 1 runs from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Proctor Road. The third segment will stretch from Bahia Vista Street to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota, county staff explains on webpages dedicated to The Legacy Trail initiative.
Jon F. Swift of Sarasota is the construction firm overseeing all the work.
Robinson pointed out that, before voters approved a November 2018 referendum that allowed the county to issue up to $65 million in bonds to pay for the North Extension and a connector to North Port, the goal was to complete all the work by 2024.
However, he continued, “It was pretty soon after [the referendum]” that the county commissioners and county administrative staff let the PRNR staff know “That’s not soon enough.”
As a result, he said, PRNR representatives conferred with Kimley-Horn staff and the county’s contractors for the project to discuss ways to speed up the initiative. They figured out how to get the North Extension and the North Port connector completed by the end of 2022, Robinson said. “Took two full years off the project.”
“I think it was the next day,” after the referendum, Rissler joked, that she first heard commissioners’ pleas to hurry up.
Robinson also explained during the Dec. 2 Facebook Live update that all three of the North Extension segments are under construction, and work on two of the new trailheads should be getting underway soon. The design work is continuing for the Pompano Avenue Trailhead, which will be adjacent to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, he added.
The other two trailheads will be located on Ashton Road and Webber Street.
When Rissler asked for an update on the North Port connector, Robinson explained that that remains in the design and permitting process. “If everything goes well, and we believe it should,” he added, “we will be going to the [County Commission] with a construction contract for that work sometime in the spring, and construction should start within a month or so after that.”
A memorable year
During their discussion, Robinson told Rissler that he felt “probably the most memorable milestone for this year was the pace we were able to drive this project at.” Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, he pointed out, “We’ve really pushed this project along, based on what the citizens told us they want.”
One case of the novel coronavirus was diagnosed among members of the construction team, he said. “Immediately upon hearing of that positive test,” Robinson continued, the contractor quarantined all the workers who might have been exposed to the infected person and brought in other crew members to keep up the progress on the Trail. “We didn’t lose any time to COVID.”
One other factor related to the pandemic, Robinson pointed out, has been the increase in use of the original Legacy Trail, which runs between Venice and Culverhouse Nature Park. “We’ve seen tremendous growth on the Trail,” he noted, as people sought more options for activities that would mean less potential to contract COVID-19. By the end of this year, he added, “We’re going to be over 400,000, and that’s without the Extension.”
Steve Martin of the nonprofit Friends of the Legacy Trail provides statistics about Trail use on the Friends’ website. Through October — the last month for which The Sarasota News Leader found data this week — the total number of riders over the previous 12 months was 392,510, Martin reported.
Although usage declined a bit in August and September, it climbed again in October, his figures show.
The month with the highest count thus far this year was March, after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida. The riders numbered 52,175 in March, according to Martin’s data.
As Rissler and Robinson talked during the Facebook Live event, Rissler also noted how proud she has been of the neighbors of the North Extension segments. A lot has changed for them from a landscaping perspective, she said.
As the discussion neared its end, Rissler asked Robinson what he would be proudest of five to 10 years from now in regard to The Legacy Trail initiative.
“I’m just hopefully going to say, ‘We got it right,’” Robinson responded.
County staff members “took a long look” at the existing Trail, he said, in an effort to determine what was working well and what was not.
He noted that, after his eventual retirement, he is looking forward to riding the entire, completed Trail.
On one sad note, the Friends of the Legacy Trail has reported the death of Bruce Dillon of Nokomis. The nonprofit’s website says, “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Bruce Dillon, one of the founders and past presidents of Friends of The Legacy Trail. Bruce was the driving force in proposing and promoting the extension of The Trail into downtown Sarasota. His vision, experience, and counsel will be missed.”
A celebration of Dillon’s life will be held on Saturday Dec. 5, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Toale Brothers Ewing Chapel in Venice, the website adds. Ewing Chapel is located at 140 E. Venice Ave.
During the July 9 groundbreaking for the North Extension, Dillon was among members of the Friends organization who were recognized.