The Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) — Pasco’s lead transportation planning agency — is expected to get an update on planning efforts for the Orange Belt Trail in July.
As envisioned, the 37-mile Orange Belt Trail will stretch from Trinity to Trilby and will provide regional connectivity.
It’s also expected to enhance the existing and planned regional trail network by providing key connections to the Coast-to-Coast Trail, Starkey Trail, Suncoast Trail and Withlacoochee Trail, according to information on the Orange Belt Trail’s website.
The 12- to 14-foot multi-use trail is expected to link communities such as Trinity, Odessa, Land O’Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Dade City to help fuel economic transformation.
It will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists, and possibly for equestrian use in some areas.
Generally, it will follow the path of the Orange Belt Railway, but deviations are expected.
Although planners have not honed in on the exact path yet, there’s been considerable discussion on what should be included and there’s been pushback from some areas that do not want the trail.
Tina Russo, a transportation planner for the Pasco MPO, recently gave that board an overview of some of the thoughts that have been surfacing — including input from public meetings held in December and April. She also shared suggestions from the MPO’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) and its Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).
The project is being led by Sam Benick, a Pasco County project manager, along with county staff and consultants.
“We had an in-depth conversation with our CAC committee and our BPAC on this alignment,” said Russo, who devotes much of her time to seeking ways to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Russo said she spent more than an hour discussing the issue with BPAC members.
“These guys have waited years to provide these comments,” she said.
She expects Beneck and the consultants to have an informal conversation about the Orange Belt Trail planning efforts during the MPO board’s July meeting.
“That (Orange Belt) rail line is what the Pinellas Trail is on and what the Coast-to-Coast is on,” Russo said. “That line has been on Pasco mapper for quite a few years and, now, we’re finally getting to study it.”
During public sessions on the project in April, questions arose about the potential alignment in certain parts of West Pasco, Land O’ Lakes and Dade City, Russo said.
While the trail alignment is not yet clear, there’s obviously considerable interest in the project.
Russo estimated more than 150 people attended public meetings on the project in December and a considerable number of comments have been submitted on the Orange Belt Trail’s website.
Public input is being used to help determine such things as where trailheads should go and the locations of trail crossings, Russo said.
“We got a good idea of what people want and don’t want,” Russo said.
“We found out that people wanted a paved trail and they wanted it kind of in the woods,” she said.
They’d like to keep a separation between the trail and traffic, to help keep trail users safe.
In a perfect world, the trail users would like 100 feet of right of way, consisting of a clear zone and trees, Russo said.
“We can do that in some places,” the transportation planner said.
In some places, though, the right of way will be smaller.
There may be some places, where the trail is on a road, with a separation from cars, Russo said. That may be necessary, in order to make a desired connection, she explained.
For instance, there’s a trail in New York that traverses the entire state, but portions of it are on the road, Russo said.
Members of the public also have weighed in on amenities they’d like to see.
“They wanted trailheads with restrooms. That’s always a big one,” Russo said.
Other requests include water fountains, wayfinding (directional signage) and grade-separated crossings.
Planning can make a real difference in creating an effective trail system, Russo said.
“If we build a trail correctly, in a community, you need less trailheads.
“If we build this right, we want you to be able to ride from your house and not have to build trailheads, if possible,” she said.
Proper planning also can reduce the need for overpasses, Russo added.
“Overpasses are expensive. They’re about $15 million. And not everybody uses them.
“We want to try to actually design a trail that we can cross the road safely, without planning to build an overpass that might take 10 or 15 years to build,” Russo said.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley said property owners from Blanton to Trilby don’t want the trail to align with the Orange Belt Trail because portions of the former rail line are now on private land.
Oakley suggested looking at a different route, perhaps further to the east.
Oakley said he would love to see a trail that would accommodate equestrian users.
He also envisions the possibilities of having camp spots for equestrian trail users, on the west side of the county, on the east side and in the Green Swamp.
“We haven’t done much for equestrian, but we do have a lot of people who love horses and love riding horses,” Oakley said.
Orange Belt Trail
The Orange Belt Trail is intended to be a trail that crosses Pasco County, linking Trinity to Trilby and providing connections to the Coast-to-Coast Trail, the Starkey Trail, the Suncoast Trail and the Withlacoochee Trail. It also will link such communities as Trilby, Odessa, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Dade City. For additional details on the Orange Belt Trail project, visit OrangeBeltTrail.com.
Published June 14, 2023