Northern extension of Legacy Trail fails to win SUN Trail program grant, but application to be submitted for next state funding cycle

Sarasota County staff also bogged down in negotiations with FPL over easement for a section through the Carlton Reserve as work proceeds on southern extension

A fact sheet includes these maps of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A county fact sheet includes these maps of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Obtaining funding from a state trails program for the north extension of The Legacy Trail — from Culverhouse Park in Palmer Ranch to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota —remains the top priority for both District One of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Assistant Sarasota County Attorney Mark Cunningham has reported to the County Commission.

The project was not among the 45 recently announced that won a total of $44,434,543 from FDOT’s SUN Trail Program for the 2017 fiscal year, Cunningham told the board on Oct. 25. The Shared Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail program is designed to develop statewide systems of paved multi-use trails for bicyclists and pedestrians that are physically separated from vehicular traffic, an FDOT news release explains.

“We will be applying for the next grant cycle,” he added.

At the same time, Commissioner Christine Robinson pointed out, it has been difficult to keep alive the efforts to extend the southern portion of the trail, “because it has so many moving parts to it.”

Among those are connectors involving the Cities of Venice and North Port.

Bids on Venice’s Edmondson Road multi-use trail project were to be opened Nov. 2, Cunningham reported. That southern connector is on schedule to be completed in May 2017.

North Port City Manager Jonathan Lewis emailed this view of the bridge construction to county staff on Aug. 11. Image courtesy Sarasota County
North Port City Manager Jonathan Lewis emailed this view of the Myakkahatchee bridge construction to county staff on Aug. 11. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The North Port pedestrian bridge over the Myakkahatchee Creek was finished earlier this year, Cunningham added.

Yet another facet of concern has been dealing with Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) over easements, Robinson said.

“A couple of times, it’s gone off the tracks,” she pointed out about planning for the southern extension.

The reason she brought up the issue, she explained, was because she can talk about the problems with her fellow board members only during a public meeting because of the state’s Sunshine laws.

The easement negotiations

On Oct. 20, the board received an update from Assistant County Administrator Jonathan Evans and the county’s chief engineer, Isaac Brownman, regarding negotiations with FPL for a transmission line easement across the Carlton Reserve along what is known as “Power Line Road.”

The reserve is located on the Mabry Carlton Parkway in Venice.

“Staff has been working through the Office of the County Attorney to obtain … consent from FP&L to utilize [that road] as a pedestrian and equestrian trail to provide connectivity from Legacy Trail east to DeSoto County,” the memo says. “The main discussion point has been with regard to FP&L’s requirement that the County provide an additional [$3 million] in liability insurance,” the memo notes.

The Carlton Reserve is located in the vicinity of Venice. Image courtesy Sarasota County
The Carlton Reserve is located in the vicinity of Venice. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The other issue, though, is proposed county improvements to the road, the memo points out. FPL representatives have “agreed in concept,” the memo says, “that minor County repairs to Power Line Road are acceptable in order to continue to protect the safety, health and well-being of the public.”

However, the memo explains, FPL representatives have made it clear that they would not allow “advanced or carte blanche approval” of such work; their engineers and transmission line specialists would have to review any designs and specifications first. “Language is … being proposed to add to the consent agreement [indicating] that in the event that … grant funding is made available or the Board of County Commissioners makes a budget appropriation to improve the trail, FP&L will review plans and specifications of improvements,” the memo points out.

FPL representatives have said no excavation could take place and that the existing topography of the trail could not be modified “beyond current grade level,” the memo adds.

“FP&L is concerned that any improvements that affect the existing grade of Power Line Road could interfere with the sag ratio of the power lines and suggested that the lines may be low hanging from time to time depending upon many factors, such as weather conditions,” the memo notes.

“It’s very rocky,” Robinson said of Power Line Road when she spoke with her colleagues on Oct. 25. “We need the ability to even the trail out at some point.”

Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

Commissioner Charles Hines agreed with that observation. A person with a regular 10-speed bike would not be advised to use that part of the trail, he said, though bicycles with wide wheels work well enough on it.

When he asked whether she envisioned the paving of that segment in the future or just use of equipment to smooth it out, Robinson told him, “Crushed shell might be appropriate in some areas to even it out.”

Based on what she understood about the negotiations with FPL, she added, that did not seem possible.

People who are not “expert off-road bikers” should be able to traverse that portion of the southern trail, she added; yet, off-road cyclists are practically the only ones using it.

She also voiced frustration about the length of time the negotiations with FPL have been taking, adding that she had talked about the issues with County Administrator Tom Harmer.

Furthermore, it has been clear from discussions during MPO meetings, she noted, that if the county is to win state funding for Legacy Trail upgrades, “these projects need to be shovel-ready.”

As of this point, she continued, the county has not requested any state assistance for the southern portion of The Legacy Trail, even though “many times, this board … has affirmed the importance” of that section.

Referencing the fact that she will be stepping down from the board on Nov. 22 because of term limits, Robinson said, “It’s going to be up to the commission to make sure this is not forgotten about.”

County Commission Chair Alan Maio. File photo
County Commission Chair Alan Maio. File photo

Chair Alan Maio pointed out that when some of the current board members were running for their seats, they were adamant about the southern part of The Legacy Trail being just as important as the northern extension. The county has built roads over FPL easements, he added, and private developers have created amenities and stormwater ponds on FPL easements. “This is not asking for something outrageous,” he said of the negotiations over improvements to Power Line Road.

He also concurred with Robinson’s earlier characterization that “shovel-ready” projects are the ones that win funding. If the county cannot achieve a successful conclusion to the FPL negotiations, Maio added, efforts to improve the southern portion of the trail could be “shoved back three or four years,” based on discussions at the Oct. 24 MPO meeting.

“We understand the importance,” Cunningham told the board members. “We understand the urgency.”