ELFERS — Less than two months ago, Jeff Starkey, New Port Richey’s deputy mayor, said his city likely would pull out of a local government partnership to link Port Richey’s waterfront to his city’s downtown.
Now, he’s all in.
So is most everybody else, even with a newly released price tag of $3.6 million for a trail connection along the Pithlachascotee River. The planned path would take pedestrians, bicyclists and golf carts beneath a U.S. 19 bridge that separates the cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey.
The change of heart came during a Sept. 24 joint workshop for Pasco County and its cities at which Paul Kurtz of the consulting firm AECOM briefed officials on an ongoing trail study.
Starkey, the rest of the New Port Richey City Council, Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay and four county commissioners all favored the trail option calling for an 18-foot-wide path large enough to accommodate golf cart traffic.
“We were looking at this with the golf carts having a huge impact in our city. … as an economic driver,’’ Starkey said last week.
Tremblay agreed, saying Port Richey, also was seeking to become golf-cart friendly.
It’s not a done deal, though. They have to convince the Florida Department of Transportation and figure out how to pay for the project.
The cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey have embraced golf-cart traffic on some municipal streets, but there are state and federal spending restrictions guided by safety concerns. That means a state Department of Transportation waiver would be needed because the agency typically prohibits golf carts from crossing its multi-lane highways. Likewise, financing is at issue because the federal government won’t contribute aid for trails allowing motorized vehicles.
At an August session of the Metropolitan Planning Organization — elected city and county officials sitting as transportation planners — Starkey said it didn’t make sense for New Port Richey to pay for the project if golf carts couldn’t travel the underpass.
At last week’s joint workshop, Kurtz presented four options for the riverside trail. Two measured 12 feet wide for pedestrians and bicyclists only, and two were 18 feet wide to accommodate golf carts, too. Nobody blinked at the proposed $3.6 million price tag of the wider golf-cart path, particularly since the narrower trail still would cost $2.9 million.
“It would be money well spent to do the job right the first time,’’ said New Port Richey Mayor Rob Marlowe.
Much of the cost, Kurtz said, is related to steep wall structures that would be required, regardless of the path’s width.
Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $1 million for the project from the current state budget. Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, said she would seek state aid again in the 2020 legislative session and hoped for a better outcome with a completed trail study in hand.
“I think it is the right thing to do,’’ said Mariano.
The path beneath the bridge is intended to make it safer for pedestrians to cross U.S. 19 while providing better access to Port Richey’s waterfront district on the west side of the highway. New Port Richey plans an additional trail link to allow people to travel between its own downtown and Port Richey.
New Port Richey, Port Richey and the county are splitting the $32,000 cost of the feasibility study. The idea has been kicked around for at least a dozen years, but gained renewed urgency after a rash of pedestrian fatalities. Two years ago, there were 44 vehicle crashes involving pedestrians, including nine fatalities, on the Pasco County portion of U.S. 19.
The results of the draft study will be presented to the Metropolitan Planning Organization next week, but approval there is considered a formality. Six of the nine transportation board members — four county commissioners, Starkey and Tremblay — blessed the project during the joint workshop.