The Florida Department of Transportation announced that bicycle and pedestrian trail expansion projects received $44.4 million under the Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Program within the next year.
The money will fund 45 separate projects across 21 counties within the SUN Trail Network. This includes developing statewide system of paved multi-use trails for bicycles and pedestrians which physically separate them from vehicular traffic, according to a press release by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Out of those, 34 projects have yet to complete various pre-construction phases such as a feasibility study, environmental review and design. The remaining include the construction of 11 separate trail segments that will improve or add approximately 20 miles to Florida’s trail system.
“It’s critical that we make our transportation system more multi-modal,” said Jim Wood, the state transportation planning administrator for the Florida Department of Transportation, about providing trails for bicyclists and pedestrians. “We want to make sure that we are designing a system that is long-lasting, comfortable and safe.”
When completed, the trail system will also have economic benefits, he said. Interconnected trails become touristic destinations and attract businesses looking to accommodate travelers.
In addition, Wood believes the extended system will encourage more people to travel on non-motorized vehicles.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Kristen Young, the vice president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation and chair of the regional trails committee. “Billions of dollars are spent on outdoor recreation by tourists and residents in Florida, and bike trails are the No. 1 request from tourists.”
The Florida Greenways and Trails Council selected two major regional trail systems as priorities. They are the Coast to Coast Connector, a 250-mile trail system linking the Gulf and Atlantic coasts through Central Florida, and the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, a 270-mile trail system that will link together several communities including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, DeLand and Palatka, according to the press release.
Young said she is particularly excited about the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop because closing the gap between Interlachen and Palatka will allow travelers to ride their bicycles from Gainesville to St. Augustine.
The smaller individual trail projects will also close gaps on other parts of the state.
Dates of completion for the projects are difficult to estimate because the pre-construction phase alone could take up to two years, said Jessica Ottaviano, a public information specialist with the Florida Department of Transportation, District 5.
However, the deadline to begin construction on projects is June 2017, the end of the current fiscal year, she said.
“It’s an immense statewide project, and it has many moving pieces in many districts,” Ottaviano said. “It’s a constantly moving network.”