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Officials are hot on the Trail

Designs for the Pinellas Trail's St. Petersburg corridor are nearly complete, and county officials hope to begin building the recreation trial by summer, engineers said Friday.

The 7.5-mile stretch of the trail in St. Petersburg, which will run roughly from 34th Street and Seventh Avenue S to Park Street and Tyrone Boulevard on an abandoned railroad corridor, could be complete by December, said Frank Aiello, the project's engineering director.

Aiello told members of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that the south county leg of the trail would not require the construction of any overpasses, such as the one built over Ulmerton Road.

But the trail will have to cross two waterways in St. Petersburg _ Cross Bayou and Bear Creek _ and the county has no designs for the two bridges. The trail will end at Park Street and Tyrone Boulevard until a bridge can be built to link it with another phase at Bay Pines, Aiello said.

The Pinellas Trail will be a linear, 35-mile recreation park that runs virtually the length of the peninsula, from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. Plans call for additional "spurs" to be built, which could make the 47 miles long.

One such spur would run east to downtown St. Petersburg, eventually linking the trail with the Florida Suncoast Dome and The Pier, Aiello said. County planners have been meeting monthly with city officials to design the spur.

St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, who also is an MPO commissioner, said he was pleased to learn that plans for the St. Petersburg phase were proceeding so rapidly. But Fischer said he is concerned that a lack of money could stall progress on a bridge over Cross Bayou, which could cost $2-million.

"It would be a missing link," Fischer said after the meeting. "And I'm not sure what we can do about that.

"We're getting started earlier than I thought. That we may have something by the spring or summer at 34th Street is really remarkable. Personally, I think that would be really nice."

County officials believe the trail will cost roughly $7-million, which would be less than original projections. The national recession has forced local contractors to lower their bids for work on the project, bringing total savings to date to more than $400,000.

By this summer, planners expect to have the trail nearly complete between Seminole and Tarpon Springs, said Ned Baier, a county planner. That portion of the project will cost about $4-million, he said.

In addition to the two waterways in St. Petersburg, however, planners still need to design a portion of the trail that will run through downtown Clearwater, Baier said. County and community leaders have frequently referred to the stretch as "the missing link."

The county is financing the trail's construction, mostly with money from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

In the meantime, Pinellas Trails Inc., a private group that has supported the project, has raised about $50,000 to help pay for benches, water fountains and bicycle racks along the trail, said Dan Mann, president of Pinellas Trails.

Mann said the completed sections of the trail has been a huge success so far, with 53,000 residents using it in October alone.