BROOKSVILLE — With broad-based support locally and statewide, three portions of a network of paved walking and cycling trails in Hernando County have hit or are approaching crucial milestones.
And former Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn can hardly believe the level of official backing.
"We've gone from a house full of non-believers to a house full of believers," said Bradburn, a trail advocate for about 20 years.
When she started, she said, she found very little political support for the idea that trails were crucial for safety and economic development.
"Now, it's everyone at the city, everybody at the county, everyone at the (Florida Department of Transportation) and everyone in the governor's office," she said. "This has been a really, really long process, but people are finally getting it."
The first sign of progress, said Cliff Manuel, the owner of a Brooksville engineer firm, is DOT's recent acceptance of a route for the westward extension of the Good Neighbor Trail, which begins in Brooksville.
The state had planned to run it along the State Road 50 truck route, which Manuel and city officials opposed, saying that the scenery was uninspiring and that it failed to incorporate downtown Brooksville.
The state is now backing the path they favored, extending east from the intersection of SR 50 and Cobb Road along W Jefferson Street. It will turn right through Tom Varn Park and pass through the former site of the Quarry Golf Course. It will then proceed along Broad Street to downtown, where it will head south on Main Street to connect with the existing trail near the historic train depot at Russell Street Park.
The path will allow cyclists and walkers to pass through park settings and downtown, said Manuel, whose company, Coastal Engineering Associates, helped design the path.
"It's a really good route, and I'm very happy about it," he said.
"A feasibility study has just been completed (by the Hernando Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization)," said Chris Speese, the bicycle-pedestrian coordinator for the DOT office in Tampa. "That's the approved location."
The estimated cost of the project, including design, right of way acquisition and construction, is about $17.5 million. Much of that will go to bridge the train tracks on Broad Street just south of downtown, and, possibly, the SR 50 truck route.
That money is not yet available. But two related projects have been funded, including the design for the 4-mile stretch between Cobb and the Suncoast Trail, called the Good Neighbor Trail Connector. That project received $475,000 for design from the Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail Program created by state law in 2015 and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Statewide, that program will receive $25 million per year for the next five years, with its first priority being the Coast to Coast Connector Trail, a project that will knit existing trails such as the Good Neighbor and the Suncoast into a path running about 250 miles from Titusville to St. Petersburg.
The Good Neighbor Connector is part of that project, as is the path through Brooksville.
So far, about 4 miles of the Good Neighbor have been completed, extending east from Russell Street to Weatherly Road. The $2.8 million needed to connect it 6.7 miles east to the Withlachoochee State Trail is available, and the county is selecting a contractor. Construction is expected to start within six months, according to county engineer Mark Guttman, and will last about a year.
The funding is a sign of what Bradburn has observed, Speese said.
Trail projects "have a lot of support from different agencies and different localities," he said.
Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected]; follow @ddewitttimes.