Pasco County will be left out of one of the longest segments of the state’s Coast to Coast Connector Trail, but efforts are expected to continue to include the county in future projects.
The Florida Department of Transportation is opting for a northern trail route that winds through Hernando and Sumter counties and the city of Webster for the Coast to Coast Connector Trail, known as the C2C trail.
The department of transportation rejected alternate southern routes that would have passed through Pasco County, citing safety and relocation issues, and environmental concerns.
State officials also said a southern route would add about nine additional miles to the C2C trail, which would boost construction costs.
About 80 people attended the last of three public meetings, hosted by the the state transportation department on April 7. Other meetings were in Sumter and Hernando counties.
Many came away from the April 7 meeting disappointed that the Sumter trail segment wouldn’t pass through a single Pasco town or city.
“It’s so important to us, not only as a destination, but for economic impact to the community and tourism,” said Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez.
Transportation officials and their consultant, Orlando-based VHB, conducted a feasibility study for what is known as the South Sumter Connector Trail, the largest remaining segment of the C2C trail. The study looked at three northern routes through Hernando and Sumter counties, and two southern routes through Pasco and Sumter.
The purpose of the project is to build a trail segment connecting the Good Neighbor Trail to the South Lake Trail. That link also will interconnect with the James A. Van Fleet trail, which winds to the Withlacoochee Trail. When finished, the C2C will be about 270 miles of new and existing trails in nine counties, including the Starkey Wilderness Trail in west Pasco and the trailhead for the Withlacoochee.
The planned trail segment would fill the gap in the C2C trail, which when finished will link Pinellas County in the west with Brevard County in the east.
Pasco County Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey also suggested another alternative, which would tie in the cities of Webster, Lacoochee, Trilby and Dade City. That proposal was not part of the study, which will conclude in June.
The transportation department’s preferred route would cost about $21.4 million. The southern routes would cost about $25 million to $27 million.
The next phase is an approximately two-year study of environmental and engineering issues that would begin in late 2016 or early 2017. The trail then would be designed, right of way secured and, finally, construction would begin.
The entire process is likely to take multiple years.
Hernandez and others plan to keep lobbying for the entire Pasco community, in this and future projects.
Constructions of several trails or links with existing trails are in the works in Pasco, and also between Pasco and Pinellas County. They eventually will link with the Suncoast Trail and Hernando. A multi-use trail beside U.S. 301 is planned as a future link for the Hardy Trail, in Dade City.
Dade City council members were scheduled, on April 12, to consider a letter supporting Starkey’s proposed route, as well as a connector loop suggested by Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader. That action was slated for consideration after The Laker/Lutz News’ press time.
The letter, which would be sent to state transportation officials, also will request that directional signage be installed at the Good Neighbor Trail to let bicyclists know of trails available in Pasco.
Dade City resident Mark Pinson is heading up a petition drive to gather signatures favoring a trail that would include Dade City and other Pasco destinations.
“Bikers want destinations,” Pinson said. “Dade City is a great destination. You want a place to eat and have a cup of coffee.”
Several trails come close to Dade City, but they don’t connect, he said.
Hundreds of bicyclists flock to Dade City and San Antonio to enjoy scenic rides, he added.
Brooksville resident Art Frassrand checked out proposed routes on a display map prior to the transportation department’s slide show, and listened to David Williams, a planning manager for the department, as he explained the agency’s decision process.
“This is easily the most feasible route,” Williams said. “It’s a lot easier right-of-way wise. We won’t take as much frontage.”
Frassrand wasn’t persuaded.
“I think the southern route is the best,” Frassrand said.
It would trail through the Withlacoochee State Forest, and offer “the prettiest views,” he said.
Williams said forestry officials weren’t in favor of the C2C going through the state forest. He also noted hunters who said a bicycle trail would disrupt their hunting season.
However, Frassrand said bicyclists share the forest with hunters now for off-road or dirt bike riding.
Pinson said the northern route followed along busy highways.
“It’s probably a more unsafe route for bikers,” he said.
The extra nine miles that bothered transportation officials wouldn’t be an issue for bike riders, especially those planning an across-the-state jaunt, Pinson said.
“This is the prettiest nine miles of the whole trip,” he said.
Published April 13, 2016, Revised on April 15, 2016