Monday, May 20, 2013

FDOT: Please Save the Florida Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail

The Cross-Seminole Trail, which would connect to the Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail.  

Governor Scott vetoed $50 million approved by the Republican legislature to complete the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail.  This was a disappointing and short-sighted decision.  The veto does nothing to help Titusville, where the trail was slated to cross, with its vacant storefronts, reeling from NASA cutbacks.  The Trail could have done for Titusville what the West Orange Trail did for Winter Garden and the Pinellas Trail did for Dunedin.

The Governor stated in his veto message:
“The worthwhile project contemplated by the Coast-to-Coast connector can be built incrementally and consistent with a prioritization of gaps in the existing trail system.”
Hope lies with the Florida Department of Transportation to continue connecting the disparate trails, absent a State line item in the budget.  The Governor stated that FDOT's Transportation Work Program includes $57 million in statewide funding for trails.

FDOT can and should prioritize completion of the Starkey, Orange, and Seminole gaps for $6.5 million--a minuscule sum in FDOT's $9 billion budget.  Closing these gaps would make substantial improvements in connectivity in the Tampa Bay and Orlando metro areas, the Trail's most populated regions.

The next priority should be the Good Neighbor Gap ($3.75 million) to bring economic benefits to Weeki Watchee and Brooksville and create impressive connectivity between Tampa Bay and the Withlacoochee Trail.  FDOT could hopefully complete this segment together with, or soon after completion of the already-funded Good Neighbor Trail.

I would then turn attention to the East-Central Gap.  This  more expensive segment ($8.1 million) would  connect Central Florida to Titusville, desperate for economic relief.  I would then extend out to the National Seashore.  ($4 million)

FDOT and FDEP should explore whether they can alter the route to use more right-of-way within the Withlacoochie State Forest to cut acquisition costs for the Van Fleet Gap.  This is the most expensive segment (up to $18 million) and last on my recommended priority list.  

FDOT can and should close the Starkey, Seminole and Orange gaps for less than $10 million and substantially improve connectivity, even without a State Budget line item.   (Click image to enlarge). 

Senator Andy Gardiner deserves commendation for his work in getting the Coast-to-Coast connector approved in the budget.  His efforts to achieve good public policy are a model for people seeking and holding public office.   UPDATE 5/25: At a "Political Breakfast," sponsored by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, Senator Gardiner pledged to complete the Coast-to-Coast Trail in increments during his remaining three years in Tallahassee. 

Before Governor Scott's veto, some of Central Florida's elected Republican leaders, including Seminole Commission Chair Bob Dallari, Winter Garden Mayor John Reese, and Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd, joined with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to ride the West Orange Trail to demonstrate their support of the Coast-to-Coast connector.  Governor Scott's veto slows the project, delays its economic benefits, and was inconsistent with the judgment of Central Florida's mainstream Republican leadership, who see an obvious, huge return on investement.  

In the meanwhile, please, FDOT, work with Senator Gardiner and save the Coast-to-Coast connector. 

Read more HERE.