A plan to build a recreation trail along the South Shore coast in the next few decades got a boost last week by the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Board members approved funding all six segments of a trail that would stretch from the Little Manatee River to Causeway Boulevard and raised the project's priority on the county's long-range transportation plan, which aims to finish construction by 2035.
A major part of that plan is public greenways, which are off-road, paved paths intended for bicyclists, skaters and walkers.
The Tampa Bay area consistently ranks low on lists of pedestrian- or bike-friendly cities, a reality underscored by the recent death of LeRoy Collins Jr., a former U.S. Senate candidate and retired two-star Navy admiral. Collins was hit by an SUV as he rode his bicycle in the early hours of July 29.
Before the vote at the Aug. 3 meeting of the MPO, county Commissioner Mark Sharpe cited Collins' death as proof that residents need more bike trails.
Funding for two of the South Coast Greenway segments had been secured through a half-cent community investment tax and a developer's contribution, but the remaining portions remained up in the air.
Now $4 million from a federal transportation enhancement program will pay for the formerly unfunded portions of the project, MPO group leader Beth Alden said.
Officials originally thought the proposed 1-cent transit tax referendum could fund the greenway. The county attorney later determined that off-road trails would not be eligible, and the board had to seek other funding sources, Alden said.
Alden pointed out that bicyclists and pedestrians would not be left out of potential new penny-tax funding altogether, despite the off-road restriction. Instead, she said, more on-road bike paths and widened road shoulders were added to the plan.
"We're making sure they're in the mix," Alden said of cyclists and walkers.
It's not yet known when construction on the South Coast Greenway will begin.
Planners will study the four newly funded trail segments before setting a start date, Alden said.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.