Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Upper Tampa Bay Trail/Suncoast Trail Connection Update

This morning I ventured to the Hillsborough County Commission meeting to see what action the commissioners would take about extending the Upper Tampa Bay Trail seven miles and extending it to the Suncoast Trail.

Don't hold your breath, folks.

The commissioners voted to re-align a section of the UTBT connector trail to remove it from the property of Carolyn Wilson, a prominent developer who wants to build some 30 homes on the site. Informed folks know that trails enhance property values, but staff says Ms. Wilson the property owner is adament about not having any part of a trail that would be the gem of the state of Florida.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe pledged his efforts to connect the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and the Suncoast Trail. So did Commissioner Kevin Beckner. The other commissioners? Who knows. Here's Sharpe talking with county property staffer Mike Kelly at the mike.

I was there along with other bicycle advocates in Hillsborough County: MPO bike-pedestrian coordinator Gena Torres, CBE bike shop owner Brian Eckman, all-around bike guy Jim Shirk, Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and Michael Edgerley. None of us were able to talk during the public comment because the public comment period was closed by the commission before our names were closed.

After the morning part of the meeting, I met four county staffers who are working on his project. I suggest you contact these people for information.

Susan Fernandez of the County Attorney's Office; FernandezS@HillsboroughCounty.ORG
Bill Hand, putting the properties together; HandW@HillsboroughCounty.ORG
Mike Kelly, property manager; KellyM@HillsboroughCounty.ORG
Peggy Hamric, Technical Services Manager; hamricp@HillsboroughCounty.ORG

They plan to hold a public meeting in a month or so to inform the public what's going on.

Here's the deal. The seven-mile extension connector is split into four segments. The top section goes along the Lutz Lake Fern Road and a section just below that goes through swiftmud land. That's about half of the connector trail and those sections are in good shape. The county commissioners need to allocate money to make those segments happen, but they stiffed the project when they approved ZERO dollars from the $40 million in community investment tax money.

The third and fourth sections are more dicey. Section A ran through Carolyn Wilson's land and she told the county she doesn't want no trail. So Sharpe wants to re-route the trail just north of where the Upper Tampa Bay Trail currently ends to the west side of Gunn Highway through the Lake Rogers Park area, which is owned by teh city of St. Petersburg. The trail would then have to veer back east across Gunn Highway and head up to Van Dyle Road and the swiftmud land.

This is not going to be easy. We need to lean on the county commissioners to fund the first and second sections, which are ready to go, and lean on staff to come up with a workable re-alignment for the rest of the connection.

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