Those looking for a new place to hit the trails will have 7.9 more miles to do so within the next two years.
Construction on the Legacy Trail northern extension is underway, with portions scheduled to open as soon as spring 2021.
Construction on the trail is broken into three sections: segment one, from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street; segment two, from the current northern terminus at Culverhouse Nature Park to Proctor Road; and segment three, from Bahia Vista Street to Ringling Boulevard.
Each of the segments follow a railroad corridor that was acquired by the county in June 2019.
Work on segment one of the Legacy Trail began in July, and construction on segments two and three will soon begin after Sarasota County commissioners earlier this month approved construction for each.
Segment one is scheduled to be complete in April 2021 and will be a standalone section until linked with new segments to the north and south, with the full trail extension anticipated to be open by the end of 2022.
Upon completion, the extensions will create more than 20 miles of continuous nonmotorized paved trail from Payne Park in Sarasota to Venice. Another connector project in North Port could connect the trail to Warm Mineral Springs.
The extension will connect 27 schools within 1 linear mile and 45 schools within 2 linear miles of the trail.
Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Nicole Rissler said upon completion, the trail will be a source of pride for the community.
“It really is a connection for the entire community, and it’s a legacy project that years from now we’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Wow, that is a true amenity that makes our community world class,’” Rissler said.
The surface-level trail will be financed by the county, while overpasses planned for Clark Road and Bee Ridge Road will be financed by Florida Department of Transportation.
County voters in 2018 approved a referendum to secure funding for the project. More than 70% of voters approved the referendum, allowing the issuance of bonds up to $65 million for the project.
This year, the county will see an increased millage rate of 3.46, up 0.0269 mills or 0.78% from fiscal year 2020, to accommodate for a second set of bonds issued in February.
FDOT does not have a schedule or price for completing the overpasses at Clark and Bee Ridge roads, Project Manager Mark Smith said.
“We’re uncertain right now as to what the schedule will be for those overpasses — it’s always the usual question of funding,” Smith. “We have, however, met with FDOT to coordinate construction to make sure we don’t have to build twice in those areas.”
Additional overpasses are planned for Beneva Road, Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street, though funding and a timeline for those projects has not yet been secured.
A new bridge will be built across Phillippi Creek, adjacent to an old railroad trestle. Two covered stop stations will be built at yet-to-be-determined locations to allow trail users a break from the sun.
As the county has continued clearing a path for the trail, staff has run into a slight setback: encroachments. Homeowners who live along the corridor have a variety of items, such as fences, sheds and wells, that extend past their property line into the railroad corridor.
Rissler said of the approximately 200 encroachments reported, about 90% are fences. Throughout the year, the county has sent letters, attached notices to homes, knocked on doors and tagged encroachments to try to eradicate the problem.
“We’ve worked really diligently over the last nine months with the homeowners to get that voluntary compliance of removal of the encroachments,” Rissler said.
Aside from surface improvements, three trailheads are planned at Webber Street, Ashton Road and Pompano Avenue. All will have a restroom.
The Webber Street trailhead, which will feature a playground, and Ashton Road trailhead, which will feature hardscape landscaping, are under construction, but the Pompano Avenue trailhead is currently still under design.
Director of Capital Projects Carolyn Eastwood said plans for the Pompano Trailhead, which sits within the city of Sarasota, include a bicycle safety course, restrooms and pickleball courts. An existing building on the site will be used for parks and recreation services.
“Of the three trailheads that are going to be built, it’s kind of the super trailhead,” Rissler said. “We know that pickleball is very popular here, and we are working very hard in parks and capital projects to bring new dedicated pickleball courts to the community.”
Aside from trailhead amenities, Friends of the Legacy Trail, an organization that supports the trail, has raised $80,728 to date to support other enhancements.
President Louis Kosiba said that although there have been conversations about using the money for a variety of items, such as bike repair stations and enhanced landscaping, the two main projects the organization hopes for is art on the trail and adding a dedicated parallel trail in some portions for pedestrians.
“We have raised a considerable amount of money, and we want to do something meaningful and long-lasting for the trail,” Kosiba said. “Something that is going to create a little bit more buzz or pizzazz about the trail.”
Although he’s unsure of what form the art might take, Kosiba said possibilities include sculpture, murals or paintings on the actual trail.
He also hopes to have a parallel trail, perhaps composed of rubber chips, for pedestrians and joggers where the width of the corridor allows. The idea, he said, is to leave the paved trail for cyclists, which would help limit congestion.
Additionally, the organization is helping to coordinate two rest stops along the trail.
No plans are firm yet, Kosiba said, but no matter what amenities wind up on the trail, he said he’s excited for it to open.
“What this means is greater mobility, greater access to nature, greater opportunities for education and learning,” Kosiba said. “It’s really a shining opportunity that’s on the horizon.”