Pasco County is negotiating an agreement to move ahead on the first portion of the Orange Belt Trail, a project that one day is expected to stretch 37 miles, from Trinity to Trilby.
The Pasco County Commission voted at its Jan. 9 meeting to delegate authority to County Administrator Mike Carballa to negotiate and execute an agreement relating to the Orange Belt Trail, from Little Road to Gunn Highway, along Trinity Boulevard, Cool Springs Parkway, Community Drive and State Road 54.
Carballa was authorized to finalize an agreement that doesn’t exceed the budgeted amount of $2.35 million, plus 20%, according to background materials in the county board’s agenda packet.
The action was approved as part of the board’s consent agenda, which means it was approved, without discussion by the board.
A county evaluation committee shortlisted these firms in this ranked order: Coastal Design Consultants, Inc. (Coastal) and Atkins Realis USA, Inc. (Atkins).
The agreement is for the design, permitting and post-design work on that portion of the project.
Carballa has the go-ahead to execute a contract with Coastal, but if an agreement can’t be reached, he can negotiate with the second-ranked firm.
Funding for the agreement is included in the county’s fiscal year 2024 budget, in the Penny for Pasco Transportation Fund.
If the contract price exceeds the budgeted amount, the county administrator will amend the budget accordingly and report that to the county board in a quarterly budget amendment.
Materials submitted by Coastal Design Consultants say the Orange Belt Trail “will enhance the regional trail network by interconnecting the Coast-to-Coast Trail, Starkey Trail, Suncoast Trail and Withlacoochee Trail.
First phase of trail planned near Little Road
If negotiations are successful, Coastal will handle the design, permitting and construction of the first phase of the trail from Little Road to Gunn Highway, which is approximately 4.9 miles.
The proposed width of the trail will be from 12 feet to 15 feet.
This phase proposes to utilize the existing rights of way of Trinity Boulevard, Cool Springs
Parkway, Community Drive, State Road 54 and Gunn Highway to contain the trail.
The trail design will include a variety of amenities such as wayfinding signage, benches, trash receptacles, water stations, and a trailhead facility.
The proposed trailhead facility will be located on Trinity Boulevard and is requested to contain an access drive, parking area, restroom, and connection to the existing Starkey Gap Trail.
The design of this urban trailway will require Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant pedestrian crossings at all cross streets and will include two bridges.
Coastal said its approach will be to design a project that minimizes impacts to the existing improvements within the rights of way.
While the county moves ahead on this segment, decisions remain to be made on the trail’s overall path.
Several community workshops have been held and the county’s engineering team is expected to soon present final alternatives for the board’s consideration.
Trail planners have laid out alternatives in four locations across the county:
Alternative A: From Trinity Boulevard to Old Pasco Road
Alternative B2: From Old Pasco Road to County Road 579, also known as Prospect Road
Alternative C1: From County Road 579 (Prospect Road) to Dade City
Alternative C3: From CR 579 (Prospect Road) to the Withlacoochee State Trail
The four alternatives will be broken down into nine smaller segments and will undergo additional analysis before a final vision is presented to the county board at a hearing this spring, where the public will have an opportunity to weigh in.
The proposed Orange Belt Trail will, more or less, follow the path of the old Orange Belt Railway and will link communities such as Trinity, Odessa, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Dade City.
It is expected to have recreational and economic opportunities along the way and will make use of the Coast-to-Coast Trail, Starkey Trail, Suncoast Trail and Withlacoochee Trail.
The multi-use trail is expected to essentially be 12 feet to 14 feet wide, and will be paved. Portions of the trail, however, also could incorporate equestrian uses.
Public has had plenty to say
Considerable feedback already has been received at community meetings.
City of San Antonio made a formal request to the county board – seeking Alternative B1 to be dropped from consideration. Elected city leaders said that route is too close to residential neighborhoods, creating concerns about privacy, safety and noise pollution.
They also said the increased foot and bicycle traffic could disrupt the tranquility and security that residents who dwell in San Antonio enjoy. Plus, they raised issues about the potential for an increase in littering, vandalism and other undesirable activities.
San Antonio officials also complained that the needs of the community were not adequately considered.
East Pasco residents also gave trail planners an earful during a community meeting at the Dade City Garden Club.
They raised concerns about the potential for private property being needed for the trail. They also questioned how it would be funded.
Throughout the process, Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey – a staunch trails advocate – has declared that those fears are unfounded. She has repeatedly said there are no plans for the county to take property against landowners’ wishes.
Other considerations have included cultural, socioeconomic, natural and physical resources, the release says.
For more information on the Orange Belt Trail, visit OrangeBeltTrail.com
Published January 17, 2024