If you want to see what happens when a big bureaucracy doesn't know quite enough about the community it serves, drive east from Brooksville on State Road 50.
The highway is getting a fresh layer of asphalt and new sidewalks on both sides, with the one on the south being built into an steep embankment and stabilized with a concrete wall that looks stout enough to belong in a bomb shelter.
It's a very involved sidewalk project. It's expensive (more than $900,000). And, unless somebody has an urgent need to walk the 1 1/2 miles between the nearby Hess Express near Jasmine Drive and the planned terminus of the sidewalk at a dead-end lane called Landsdale Street, it's just about pointless.
I've heard plenty of grumbling lately about the government spending money on this and other new sidewalks along state highways in Hernando. Among the critics is Brooksville Realtor Gary Schraut, who pointed out that on SR 50, the new sidewalks — a defining feature of urban landscapes — pass the site of a proposed development that was turned down because, basically, it was too far out in the country.
Okay. I get it.
There's no doubt that some of the new sidewalks, such as the ones along U.S. 41 south of Spring Hill Drive, look like pedestrian roads to nowhere.
And if I had a chance to choose where we spend money on sidewalks, the Landsdale Street connector would be a far lower priority than, for example, six plans for sidewalks around schools. These have yet to be funded and need to be soon, now that we're asking more children to walk to school.
But, mainly what I want to say is this:
Sidewalks can help make us a community rather than a bunch of disconnected clumps of tract homes.
Sidewalks and bike trails add value to our county — in almost all cases, I'd bet, far more than the original cost of building them.
And, most of all, sidewalks save lives.
The middle school student killed walking on California Street four years ago would almost certainly be alive today if there had been a sidewalk for her to walk on, as there is now.
Hernando County has long been one of the most sidewalk-barren parts of a region — the Tampa Bay area — that consistently rates as one of the most lethal places to walk or ride a bike in the country.
So, isn't building bike trails and sidewalks exactly what the state needs to do, especially at a time when construction costs are depressed?
Yes, it absolutely is.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, Hernando has been good about submitting feasible projects to compete for the roughly $6.5 million in federal money the local DOT office spends on nonroad projects every year.
So, in the next four years, the state will spend $5.6 million on 13 projects — paved shoulders on Osowaw Boulevard, sidewalks on busy roads in Spring Hill, three stretches of the Good Neighbor Trail east of Brooksville.
That's one way sidewalks and trails are built.
Starting about three years ago, they've also been constructed whenever the state improves highways in or near urban areas.
Yes, it's this policy that is responsible for the previously mentioned, misplaced stub of a sidewalk east of Brooksville and for some other fairly desolate walkways, mostly in so-called urban areas that really aren't that urban. We happen to have quite a lot of those in Hernando.
But that's our fault. We wouldn't have these desolate stretches of sidewalk if the county hadn't allowed such a spread-out, somewhat desolate pattern of development in the first place. Yep. Sprawl strikes again.
On the more positive side, this policy has also given us much-needed sidewalks along developed stretches of U.S. 19. And, later this year, when crews start widening SR 50 between U.S. 19 and the Suncoast Parkway, they'll build an adjacent walking-cycling trail. This will give us a connection to the Suncoast Trail and, said Schraut, a definite community selling point.
All in all, it seems, we need sidewalks. We're getting them. So why grumble?