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Sarasota Friday, Jul. 29, 2022 2 months ago

Original plans derailed, city studies urban trail options to complete Legacy Trail

As negotiations with Seminole Gulf Railway have jumped the tracks, Sarasota looks to take the remaining 4.3 miles of Legacy Trail to the streets.
by: Andrew Warfield Staff Writer

Having chugged its way 18.5 miles from the Venice Train Depot to Fruitville Road, further construction of the multimodal Legacy Trail project toward the north has been derailed as negotiations with Seminole Gulf Railway have apparently jumped the tracks.

During last week’s Sarasota City Commission budget workshop, Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat said negotiations with the railroad to co-locate the last 4.3 miles of the trail from Fruitville Road to University Parkway near Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport have stalled, and completing the trail will likely require an alternate plan.

With the railroad having declined to sell its track for the trail, talks had been underway to explore sharing the right-of-way for the completion of the trail to the planned northern terminus. Jeffcoat said recent requests by Seminole Gulf had become untenable, and as a result the city is exploring alternatives.

“One of the things that you have to understand with regard to what's the difference between what the county has been able to do, and what we have to do for this north section, is the outright purchase of the property from the railroad,” Jeffcoat said. “They're not willing to sell the property to the north, so we have to enter into a lease agreement-type thing that gets us into some legal issues. They have all the power. … They are refusing to enter into certain agreements that we would need related to environmental and things of that nature.”

And there’s more.

"The latest conversation was they want us to pay for replacing the rails,” Jeffcoat said.

The southern portion of Legacy Trail was built on unused former CSX tracks, which Sarasota County acquired from the company. Seminole Gulf intends to keep its seldom-used tracks north of downtown for future operations, Jeffcoat said.

An Seminole Gulf Railway spur at 17th Street is overgrown with grass. (Photo by Andrew Warfield)

Although removed from an area just north of Fruitville Road, the railroad's tracks still exist from around Aspinwall Street north into Manatee County. A Y-junction is in place just north of Eighth Street, sending a spur across U.S. 301 parallel to 10th Street and the main line north alongside the eastern edge of U.S. 301, crossing through Newtown and on into Manatee County.

Pivoting in a new direction, City Engineer Nik Patel said, has presented new opportunities for Legacy Trail, though. 

Rather than a single artery to University Parkway along the railroad, planners are exploring more of a capillary system to connect multiple points both east and west to an urban trail network through neighborhoods such as Newtown that completes the trail northward.

As a bonus, Patel said, “The amount we would spend if we did do some sort of deal with the railroad, you'd spend essentially half of that doing three different trails to connect the parks, schools and the colleges, and the airport. You could do multiple routes where people have options as to which route they want to take.”

Sarasota city commissioners have earmarked $6 million from Surtax IV, the fourth edition of the successive 15-year, 1-cent sales tax that is up for voter approval in this fall’s general election. One of main issues is that such funds are not permitted to be used to lease land. Purchases of land or materials are permitted. 


A holistic vision

A meeting of multiple stakeholders will be held Aug. 9 to discuss a holistic vision of what the remainder of Legacy Trail should be. They include the Trust for Public Land, FDOT, Sarasota County and all of the county’s municipalities.

The greatest benefit of a reworked trail plan would be providing accessibility for more communities to the Legacy Trail.

“Different people will have different routes to get to where they want to go, connecting to the airport, the colleges and the parks,” Patel said. “Connecting to The Bay is going to be really critical. We're trying to find multiple routes to have the urban trail feed to all these critical components where a lot of activity happens.”

In addition to spurs that could provide connections to Newtown, Bay Park and more, likely is a link to the planned nature park at Bobby Jones Golf Complex, which includes a nature trail that is on a statewide trail plan, possibly qualifying it for state and/or federal grants.

County leaders have spoken about linking Nathan Benderson Park to Legacy Trail, potentially through an eventual connection at Bobby Jones. Beyond that, a proposed overpass of Interstate 75 south of the park into Lakewood Ranch opens up more possibilities, potentially even a link to a series of trails proposed by Manatee County. County Commissioner Christian Ziegler even noted the possibility of a triathlon that could make its way from Lakewood Ranch, into the park for the swimming portion and then head out on a Legacy Trail link for the cycling portion.

Legacy Trail's newest segment turns to the west at Beneva Road, about midway between Bahia Vista Street and Fruitville Road, with the Bobby Jones complex not far away. Between that point and a potential link to the future nature park at Bobby Jones is Circus Trail Nature Park, which could one day connect the two. An existing portion of the Circus Trail already runs alongside Circus Boulevard between Beneva Road and the Bobby Jones entrance. It's also a key piece of Sarasota County’s plan to connect the trail system to Nathan Benderson Park.

An urban trail would provide a different experience from much of the Legacy Trail built along that former CSX right-of-way, but it would still function similarly.

“I think we're going to be using our roadway systems and repurposing the roadway to separate the bicycles and pedestrians from the roadway,” Patel said. “We need it to have a trail feel as opposed to just being right next to a roadway.”


The Ringling Trail project from Legacy Trail crossing at Ringling Boulevard into the heart of downtown is under construction. (Photo by Andrew Warfield)

In March, Legacy Trail Segment 3 opened to Fruitville Road in downtown, running through Payne Park along the way. Underway is a “complete streets” project to convert one traffic lane of Ringling Boulevard in each direction into bike lanes between Lime and Pineapple avenues.

The $2.4 million Ringling Trail project will link Legacy Trail and Payne Park to the downtown core, and to the barrier islands beyond perhaps a model of more urban trails to come in lieu of the original railroad route. Still, the goal is to terminate the northern end of Legacy Trail at the airport, some 22 miles north of the Venice Train Depot. Further development of the trail south toward North Port also is under way. 

“One of the routes we're looking at being adjacent is Old Bradenton Road, somehow connecting that to University Parkway and the airport,” Patel said. “But, we're still in the early phases and we'll be evaluating any alternatives in that area.”

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