Responding to County Commission admonitions, staff speeding up work on at-grade segments of Legacy Trail extensions to Sarasota and North Port

Except for two major overpasses, project could be complete as early as 2022

The Legacy Trail ends at Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch. File photo

After voters in November 2018 overwhelmingly demonstrated support for the North Extension of The Legacy Trail and connections to North Port, the Sarasota County commissioners began urging staff members to do all they could to speed up the project.

And staff heard, “loud and clear,” Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Capital Projects Division for the county, told the board members on June 5.

In keeping with that admonishment “to do this project in segments … and do them as quickly as possible,” even if they are not sequential, she said, she and Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), were seeking action that day to put the board’s direction in motion.

On a unanimous vote, the commissioners approved a $5,265,272.82 contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates of Sarasota “for professional design services for the Legacy Trail Extension project,” as the agenda put the recommended motion.

Steve Martin, chair of the Square Foot Campaign for the Friends of the Legacy Trail, told The Sarasota News Leader this week, “We’re very pleased and satisfied with the progress [on the new sections of the Trail]. We think [the commissioners and staff are doing a great job.”

Staff efforts will lead to the at-grade segments being completed as early as 2022, Martin pointed out in a June 12 telephone interview, instead of late 2024. “So this is a big reduction in the amount of time it’s going to take to get bicyclists on the [new portions] of the Trail. … It’s wonderful to see all of this happen after all the work [to win passage of the bond referendum].”

And members of the Friends of the Legacy Trail are continuing to do their part by seeking contributions to the Square Foot Campaign to help pay for some of the improvements that will be underway, Martin noted.

This graphic shows the North Extension and a connector to North Port. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On June 5, Eastwood also explained to the commissioners that staff had worked out an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to make more efficient use of a grant the county received in 2018 from the state’s Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Network program. FDOT will construct the necessary overpasses of Clark Road and Bee Ridge Road for the North Extension after the grant funding becomes available in July 2022, she said. Otherwise, she added, staff would have had to wait until July 2022 to begin any work on the new Legacy Trail projects.

As a result of those negotiations with FDOT, the ground-level portions of the Legacy Trail extensions are expected to be completed in 2022, Eastwood indicated. Previously, PRNR staff had estimated completion of the North Extension and the connector to North Port would be finished by December 2024.

On June 5, Eastwood credited long-time Capital Projects Division staff member Thai Tran for coming up with the proposal to FDOT. As a result of FDOT’s willingness to go along with that, she said, staff could begin the at-grade portions of the new Trail sections as soon as the bond money is available, which is expected about June 25.

Chair Charles Hines announced that the signing of the documents for the bond issue is set for Monday June 17. He hoped staff would plan a ceremonial event for that occasion, he said.

Staff is at work on a big event for late June, Rissler responded; that will mark the closing on the bonds and the acquisition of the final segment of right of way for the North Extension from Ashton Road to downtown Sarasota.

Thanks to the Friends of the Legacy Trail, new signage has been installed at Bay Street. Photo by Darryl Lang, courtesy of Friends of the Legacy Trail

The Kimley-Horn contract explains that the North Extension “will end at the south side of Fruitville [Road], a distance of 7.74 miles,” from Culverhouse Nature Park. Additionally, the document says, the extension will run “from the mostly northerly horizontal curve just west of [South Shade Avenue] to cross [South School Avenue] and connect to Payne Park, a distance of 0.2 miles,” making the total North Extension 8.9 miles.

The contract adds, “Project will consist of trail improvements along the old Seminole Gulf Railroad right-of-way,” including drainage work, landscaping, three trailheads with lighting, seven rest stops, numerous at-grade crossings “requiring signing and marking,” and traffic signals.

The North Port connection will extend from the terminus at Forbes Trail, which is about 2.1 miles east of the entrance to Deer Prairie Creek, and end at Warm Mineral Springs, a distance of about 4.8 miles, the contract notes.

Additionally, Eastwood pointed out to the board that the design work Kimley-Horn will be undertaking will provide for the laying of fiber optic conduit and cable, as well as watermain and reclaimed water line improvements. Funding for that part of the initiative, she continued, will come from sources other than the bonds.

Eastwood also won commission approval on June 5 for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to execute the contract with Kimley-Horn as soon as the bond money becomes available. Otherwise, she pointed out, with the commission not meeting again until early July, “We would be missing out on several weeks’ worth of work.”

More than 175,000 people use The Legacy Trail each year, county data show. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Finally, Eastwood talked about staff’s recommendation to bring aboard a construction manager at risk — a firm that will supervise all facets of the projects. That way, she said, “We can work on segments as we go.”

A construction manager at risk seeks to identify means of speeding up work, saving on expenses and improving the quality of the project, according to a slide Eastwood showed the board.

She said she hoped to have the initial construction manager at risk contract ready in late August for board consideration — after the annual commission summer recess. (Amendments to such contracts are typical as a project proceeds, based on other initiatives the county has pursued with construction managers at risk.)

A June 5 memo staff memo to the commission noted that county staff has advertised a “Request for Construction Manager at Risk Services.”

Following the presentation, Commissioner Alan Maio referenced Eastwood’s opening comments: “‘We heard what the commissioners said and we acted on it.’ Bless you.”

Constructing the at-grade sections first, he continued, “is just a great way to do [the extensions].”

Maio also took the opportunity to point out that it was much easier for the county to win the SUN Trail grant after it concluded its purchase of the first segment of the North Extension — from Culverhouse Nature Park in Palmer Ranch to Ashton Road — in December 2017. “Sure as shooting, we got approved.”

The North Port options

A close-up map shows a potential North Port connection that would parallel part of I-75, plus one through Deer Prairie Creek Preserve (yellow line). Image courtesy Sarasota County

Referring to the North Port part of the project, Commissioner Nancy Detert told Eastwood and Rissler, “I’m glad that we can deliver on the promise that we made to the City of North Port. … It turns out they’ve risen to the front of the list instead of the back of the list,” Detert added.

Three potential connections to North Port are under consideration, Rissler explained.

One could make use of what is called the Power Line Trail, she pointed out. That trail already runs through the Carlton Reserve, over the Myakkahatchee Creek Bridge — which was a joint project of the county and the City of North Port a few years ago — and into the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, she added. “This is a very easy, very quick connection point for the city of North Port …”
That route would not be paved, Rissler told the board, but it would be improved. “Our intention is to look at that as a quick win,” she continued, “while Kimley-Horn is looking at the other options.”

A second potential route runs through Deer Prairie Creek Preserve, as a fire maintenance road already exists there, Rissler noted. A small bridge would have to be built over a creek, she said, but Kimley-Horn staff will consider that.

A third option would run partly parallel to Interstate 75, she indicated, through Schewe Ranch.

“That’s an incredible free advertisement for The Legacy Trail,” Chair Hines pointed out of the latter option. People driving along the interstate would see the trail, he added, and wonder about it.

Additionally, Hines said, “A project like [the Trail extension] is so nice when it … meets other priorities that the commission has set.”

For years, he explained, the board has wanted to create more public access to the natural lands the county has purchased.

Martin of the Friends of the Legacy Trail told the News Leaderthis week that members of the nonprofit helped to organize outings for two of the county commissioners and for North Port city commissioners, so they could see the options for the North Port connectors.

Just as Rissler noted last week, Martin said a route from east Venice into North Port will be easy to complete.

Continuing its campaign

After the county purchased the right of way for the first segment of the North Extension, the Friends of the Legacy Trail launched its Square Foot Campaign as a fundraiser to assist the county with amenities for the new segments.

As of this week, the nonprofit’s website noted, the campaign has raised $72,073 from 606 donations.

“It’s slowly building,” Martin, head of the campaign, told the News Leader on June 12.

An aerial map on the Friends of the Legacy Trail website on June 13 shows the approximate location of the next square foot of Phase 1 of the North Extension, for a contributor to the Square Foot Campaign. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

That campaign allows a person to pay for a specific square foot of the Phase 1 segment of the North Extension, between Palmer Ranch and Ashton Road.

Each donor receives a personalized certificate of appreciation that has the GPS location of the donor’s square feet, the Friends of the Legacy Trail website explains.

All of the money raised by the campaign “will be used to help fund construction of The Legacy Trail extension and its amenities,” the website points out.

Contributions have ranged from $5,000 — for 300 square feet — to $20 for 1 square foot, the website shows.