By Erika Webb
The possible allocation of $50 million dollars for Florida's Coast to Coast Connector Trail couldn't make Volusia County trailblazers happier.
The Coast to Coast Connector, spanning from St. Petersburg to Titusville, will link more than 200 miles of existing bike paths, making it the longest contiguous bike path in Florida and one of the nation's largest.
Bridging 72 miles of gaps remaining among over a dozen regional trails winding across Central Florida is the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's aim. The estimated cost, according to the DEP, is $42 million.
Money for the project would come from the transportation trust fund, and be disbursed in $10 million increments over five years.
While state lawmakers approved the funding, it remains to be assessed by Gov. Rick Scott who did not recommend the project in his proposed $74 billion budget. He could still veto the measure.
"He has line item veto power, but I doubt he would use it on this one," said Volusia County Councilwoman Pat Northey. "It has statewide economic impact."
Ms. Northey believes Volusia will receive part of the funding.
She said the county's Spring to Spring Trail and East Coast Rail Trail -- both linked to the Connector -- are the main priorities, namely acquiring a total of 14 miles of land needed to fill in portions of each.
"There is a resolution of support from the TPO and County Council -- to be sent to the governor and legislative delegation -- to support the initiative," Ms. Northey said.
The resolution's purpose is to encourage Gov. Scott not to veto, to leave the measure in place and to have a portion of the $50 million used for the unfunded 10-mile segment of Rail Trail, and for a four-mile section of the Spring to Spring Trail.
"The missing link is Detroit Terrace to 17-92, around the back of DeBary," Ms. Northey said. "That segment of the Spring to Spring Trail is not as far along in its development. We are working with Progress Energy in laying out an alignment."
She said discussions with the power company have been slow in the midst of its acquisition by Duke Energy, but she is hopeful productive discussions will take place soon.
"I am confident we'll get some of that money," she said.
The East Central Regional Rail Trail will cover 50 miles from Enterprise to Edgewater with a 10-mile stretch through Brevard County to Titusville.
Constructed along the longest abandoned rail line ever purchased in Florida, the state bought the corridor from the Florida East Coast Railway in 2007 and turned it over to Volusia and Brevard counties for development and maintenance.
"We also want to add Edgewater as an entrance point for the Coast to Coast," Ms. Northey said. "Frankly we are further along than Brevard in build out. Our alignment coming out of Edgewater is funded, including the overpass, and in the program for construction. But it is important to both of our counties to have a Coast to Coast connection."
Nearly 16 miles of the Rail Trail runs through the Farmton Tract, 59,000 acres just west of Interstate 95 in northern Brevard and southeast Volusia counties.
Glenn Storch, an attorney for Miami Corp., which has owned the property for more than 85 years, recently sent a letter to the Office of Greenways and Trails, urging a firm timetable and funding for the trail project.
"The trail on the Farmton property is the key connector between Volusia County, Deltona, Edgewater, Titusville and Brevard County," Mr. Storch wrote.
He noted plans for the Farmton Tract include an eventual extensive trail system that will tie into the Rail Trail expanding public access into more than 40,000 acres of conservation areas.
"The acceptance of this trail was not an easy decision for my client," Mr. Storch added. "However, they have learned, and now agree, that this trail system is a critical component for the economic development of Southeast Volusia and Northwest Brevard."
In addition to attracting eco-tourists to the towns and areas served by the trail, Mr. Storch explained "a trail of this magnitude" will serve as the "framework for sustainable, job producing economic development that will greatly benefit this area of Florida."
Increased recreational options, tourism and economic development are the incentives for funding.
The Coast to Coast Connector also includes two of the state's most popular trails -- the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail and the West Orange Trail -- that have been credited with igniting sluggish local economies, particularly in Dunedin and Winter Garden.
In Dunedin's small downtown area, business occupancy has grown from 30 percent in the 1980s to nearly 100 percent since 1991 when the Pinellas Trail was established there, according to a DEP report.
Property values for homes adjacent to the trail have jumped as well.
According to an impact study conducted by the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, trailside home values increased at a faster rate than properties located farther from the trail.
"Winter Garden remade, revitalized its whole downtown. Where there used to be a train line is now a trail," Ms. Northey said.
The 22-mile West Orange Trail travels through Winter Garden's historic downtown and attracts 50,000 visitors each month. It will eventually become part of the regional connection known as the Central Florida Loop, according to the Viva Florida 500 website.
The Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation is working with local and state officials to fill the gaps between the West Orange, Seminole Wekiva, South Lake and Spring-to-Spring trails to create a 250-mile loop.
"Volusia is committed to seeing our gaps built," Ms. Northey said. "And we recognize the economic value to Volusia County tourism and the state through this project. The news could not be better."