State Rep. McFarland successful in getting $500,000 request for City of Sarasota Legacy Trail connections into Florida House appropriations bill
In approving their Feb. 8 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the Sarasota County commissioners formally accepted $320,000 from various organizations for use in the creation of a bifurcated Legacy Trail on segments of the North Extension to downtown Sarasota.
Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), has explained that some sections of the North Extension have sufficient space to allow for a clear division between the path for bicyclists and a path for walkers and runners.
In related news, a department leader with the City of Sarasota recently informed other senior city staff members that state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, has been able to include in the proposed Florida House budget bill this year a $500,000 appropriation for Legacy Trail connections to areas of the city.
The final North Extension segment of The Legacy Trail will end at School Avenue, near Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.
In a Feb. 2 email, Stevie Freeman-Montes, manager of governmental relations for the city, pointed out that the state funding would enable the city to install public safety measures, including signage and markings on School Avenue; a bike connection on East Avenue south of Payne Park; a multi-use path along the South Payne Parkway right of way and a bike connection over the Alderman Multi-Use Recreational Trail (MURT); a multi-use path on School Avenue right of way between Main Street and Ringling Boulevard; and a project planned on Ringling Boulevard from Lime Avenue to Paul Thorpe Jr. Park in the area of Lemon Avenue and State Street.
“Indeed exciting news,” City Manager Marlon Brown responded to Freeman-Montes.
City commissioners have talked about plans to extend connections from The Legacy Trail through the Bobby Jones Golf Club and Nature Park, then north to Nathan Benderson Park, near University Parkway.
In regard to the County Commission action this week: As The Sarasota News Leader previously reported, the nonprofit Friends of the Legacy Trail presented a $250,000 check to the county commissioners on Jan. 25. One-fifth of that sum came from Dr. Herbert Silverstein, who had donated the funds for the construction of a new rest stop shelter along the Trail.
A Feb. 8 county staff memo noted that the county also had received $40,000 from the Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club, $15,000 from the Friends of Sarasota County Parks and another $15,000 from a private citizen.
The memo added that the donations would make up a portion of the required match for a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Recreational Trails Program grant of $400,000 for which staff will apply. If the county wins that grant, the memo pointed out, the final budget of more than $800,000 would be updated in the county’s Capital Improvement Program listing for the Legacy Trail Extension Bifurcated Trail.
On Jan. 26, PRNR Director Rissler and Megan Eidel, supervisor of trails for PRNR, conducted a virtual webinar to talk about staff’s plans to try to secure the FDEP grant to help pay for such a project on two segments of the North Extension. The first would be located between South Shade Avenue and South Beneva Road, encompassing 1.5 miles. The second would extend from Ashton Road to Proctor Road, which is half-a-mile in length.
Bifurcated trails typically are used in situations when trails have high demand, Eidel pointed out during the webinar.
The first bifurcated section, she noted, would include the Pompano Trailhead, which will be next to Babe Ruth Park. That trailhead will have a mix of uses, so it will be expected to attract numerous pedestrians, Eidel said.
The segment between Ashton and Proctor will encompass the Ashton Trailhead, which has a playground that opened in November; that facility already has proven very popular with children and families, Eidel continued.
The goal of the project is to create a separate, 7-foot-wide asphalt path for pedestrians. A 3-foot grass median would be between that path and the 14-foot-wide bicycle path, Eidel added.
“The total project budget is dependent on the results of the grant request,” the Feb. 8 staff memo to the County Commission explained. The bifurcated trail is in the design and permitting phase, the memo added.
The grant application would be submitted to FDOT by March 1, Eidel noted during the Jan. 26 webinar. If the county wins the funding, staff will have two years to put it to use, she added.
As for McFarland’s bill: The latest notation on its status, according to a Legislature webpage, says it is formally under consideration by the Florida House’s Appropriations Committee.
Funding for the city’s Legacy Trail-related projects would be provided to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) out of the State Transportation Trust Fund, McFarland’s bill says. Therefore, FDOT technically would pay for the improvements.
The legislative session is scheduled to conclude on March 11. After the annual appropriations bill has been approved, Gov. Ron DeSantis does have the authority to veto specific projects. However, both the Sarasota City and County commissions have pointed to tremendous public support for The Legacy Trail and the potential for future connections to Manatee and Charlotte counties.