One segment of the Legacy Trail extension is on track to open this summer.
The extension, which will create more than 20 miles of continuous paved trail from Payne Park to Venice when complete, was split into three segments to facilitate faster construction.
The first segment runs from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street, the second runs from the current norther terminus at Culverhouse Nature Center to Proctor Road and the third begins at Bahia Vista Street and extends to Payne Park.
Each of the segments follow a railroad corridor acquired by the county in June 2019.
Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Nicole Rissler said asphalt paving for segment one is nearing completion. Concrete work, intersection work and installation of traffic signals at road crossings are under way.
A ribbon cutting for segment one is anticipated for mid-summer. Additionally, improvements at Culverhouse Nature Center in Palmer Ranch, which include a restroom and improved parking, is expected to be complete before the end of the year.
Rissler said the work is moving faster than leaders anticipated, with all surface level improvements scheduled to be complete by early 2022.
“If you cross over the trail anywhere north of Clark Road and south of Fruitville Road and you look either direction, you see incredible work being done every day out there,” Rissler said.
The trail was made possible after residents in November 2018 voted more than two to one in favor of a $65 million bond referendum.
Trailheads are planned at Ashton Road, Webber Street and Pompano Avenue. The trailheads also will serve as community parks and offer places to park while residents enjoy the trail.
Commissioner Mike Moran said he’s excited to see the progress and the amenities that will be at trailheads upon completion, such as pickleball courts, restrooms and playgrounds.
“This is well beyond taking a railroad and putting it as a bike trail,” Moran said. “I would argue the parking lots will be full on every one of them starting at probably 6 in the morning.”
Overpasses at Clark Road and Bee Ridge Roads are planned, but construction will be completed by the Florida Department of Transportation. They are currently under design and are expected to be complete by the end of 2024.
The county also is working on a North Port Connector trail that will extend from the southern terminus to Warm Mineral Springs. The connector will cost about $7.2 million in total.
The board in 2018 set aside $2 million for the development of the North Port connection and will cover the rest with other funds, primarily South County impact fees.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler said he’s happy to see the trail progress, and he anticipates it will be a major attractor upon completion.
“Everywhere I drive I feel like there’s just progress, progress, progress, which is fantastic to see,” Ziegler said. “Eventually, once this is up and running, the citizens are going to realize what kind of amenity this is and want to move as close as they can to the trail.”