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DeWitt: Petition for bike path through Brooksville might help

 
Published April 16, 2015

The city of Brooksville is circulating a petition asking for the Coast to Coast Connector bike trail to come through Brooksville "as opposed to being routed around the city on the State Road 50 truck bypass."

Seeing that this petition, with its pleading conclusion, "please don't bypass our city," will go to a state agency, the Department of Transportation, and given that our state's leaders seem so willing to ignore its people, this seems a quaint exercise. A little bit naive. Totally pointless.

But maybe, just maybe, somebody is listening.

First of all, cities such as Brooksville have long touted the economic development benefits of trails such as the connector, which would close gaps in existing trails between St. Petersburg and Titusville.

And that narrative has caught on big-time in Tallahassee, said Dennis Dix, executive director of the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Council.

Two weeks ago, at a meeting of MPO officials in Tallahassee, Department of Transportation secretary Jim Boxold told them, Dix said, "it is an absolute priority of DOT to complete the Coast to Coast Connector within three years."

Not only that, but the department is showing signs of listening to locals about where the trail might run.

There are, you might remember from when this was talked about at the end of last year, two planned routes to join the Suncoast Trail and the start of the Good Neighbor Trail in Brooksville. Both would start off the same — following State Road 50 from the Suncoast to its intersection with the SR 50 truck route.

From there, the city was pushing what could be called the "park path," through Tom Varn and Bud McKethan parks, along a quiet, tree-lined city avenue to Russell Street Park, the starting point of the Good Neighbor.

The DOT and the MPO staff, on the other hand, were firmly in favor of an exhaust-and-traffic path, one that continued along the truck route and somehow navigated the bypass' intersection with U.S. 41 before meeting up with the Good Neighbor east of downtown.

The DOT's local government liaison, Lee Royal, of course, said this is not the department's decision but the MPO's. Which may be technically true, except that she told the planning group, which is made up of local elected officials, that if it chose the park path over the traffic-and-exhaust path, it might not get money to close its gap at all.

So, in December, the MPO decided to go with her recommendation, but also study the park path.

A couple of city representatives said at the time that the MPO might as well not bother because there's no way the state would pay for two paths through the city of Brooksville.

But maybe there is. The DOT has committed $180,000 to study alternate routes for the trail, including the park path, and not in 2018, as was originally discussed, but this year.

And yes, Royal said, the DOT will continue to look at some sort of walking and/or cycling path along the truck route, because the district must accommodate them.

But she emphatically did not rule out a path through the city.

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"One does not negate the other," she said.

She also said the petition might help.

"If people show support" for a particular route, "that's part of the process," she said. "I think that's awesome."

So if somebody from the city hands you a petition, go ahead, sign it. It might not be a complete waste of your time.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.