Thursday, April 26, 2018
Transportation

Hernando commission should approve wide bike path near I-75, planner says

BROOKSVILLE — At a meeting two weeks ago, Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins said the county should pass on the state's offer to build a bike-friendly "widewalk" along a stretch of State Road 50 rather than accept the $3,600-per-mile maintenance costs.

"I would like the board to consider the (state) standard" of a sidewalk and a shoulder "in lieu of the widewalk," Adkins said.

The commission instead voted to delay the vote, which was a good decision, said Dennis Dix, the county's transportation planning coordinator.

Dix also urged the commission to accept the maintenance costs when the matter comes up again on Tuesday.

"I'm staking my reputation as a certified planner … that the cost benefit is very much to the county's advantage," Dix said.

Rejecting the widewalk would choke off a future bike connection for two huge subdivisions — Hickory Hill and Sunrise — that are planned near the junction of Interstate 75 and SR 50, where the state plans to build the widewalk.

It also would send the wrong message to the state Department of Transportation, Dix said, at a time when Hernando is competing with other counties for bike path money, including a share of the $15.5 million recently approved to help complete the 275-mile Coast-to-Coast Connector.

The strong bipartisan support for that project in the Legislature demonstrates the wide agreement that such trails boost tourism and improve property values, Dix said.

It's especially appropriate for Hernando, he said, which is positioning itself as a destination for outdoor recreation.

The planned widewalks are a small part of a much larger project: the widening of Interstate 75 through Hernando.

Just the improvement of the interstate's interchange at SR 50, which is expected to begin within the next 12 months, will cost $90.5 million, Dix said.

It will include widening the interstate from four lanes to six, rebuilding the exit and entrance ramps and widening a short stretch of SR 50, the part of the project that includes the widewalks — 10-foot-wide, concrete paths that can accommodate both cyclists and walkers.

They would lead into wider, asphalt bike trails that the state is expected to build when it widens SR 50 to the east of the interstate, work that is expected to begin within the next five years.

Those trails, in turn, would lead to the Withlacoochee State Trail, which runs between Trilby and Dunnellon through eastern Hernando County.

At the meeting two weeks ago, assistant county administrator for operations Brian Malmberg told the commission that the DOT has received so many requests to build bike paths that it is seeking ways to limit its costs. One way is requesting that counties accept the costs of maintaining such facilities.

He estimated the cost at $3,600 per mile each year. The section planned at the interchange is only a few hundred yards long, Dix said, so the cost would be less than that.

The cost may be further reduced, commissioners Nick Nicholson and Diane Rowden have said, by seeking volunteer groups to "adopt" the section, a common practice with other trails.

This section is not part of the route of the Coast-to-Coast Connector, which will run from St. Petersburg to Titusville and travel through Hernando. Under the current plan, one of the remaining gaps is between the Suncoast Trail and the partially completed Good Neighbor Trail, which starts in Brooksville.

But other counties have proposed routes that would move the trail elsewhere, and turning down the widewalk, Dix fears, "would set a policy decision" that the county is not willing to pay for maintenance.

Dix favors a link between the Suncoast and the Good Neighbor along SR 50 because it would be the quickest and easiest to build, which would help Hernando compete for funding.

Brooksville City Council member Lara Bradburn, on the other hand, favors seeking a more rural and scenic path that would be a bigger draw for tourists.

But she did agree that advocates of the trail need to quickly decide on a route to propose to the state.

"We need to be on the same page," Bradburn said.

Dan DeWitt can be reached at (352) 754-6116 or [email protected]

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