Bridging The GAPS !

Courtney Cambell Pedestrian BridgeA major goal of the Hillsborough MPO is completing vital walking and bicycling connections both inside our borders between the unincorporated county and three cities, and beyond the county line to wind trails through several counties as part of the West Central Florida’s trails system.

Multiple agencies have teamed together and identified critical missing links that are crucial to completing the Southwest Coast Regional Trail. For our part, the MPO has designated the South-Coast Greenway Phase 1 and the Maydell Bridge connection over the Palm River, as important missing links in our existing system that will help make the Southwest Coastal Trail a priority in Florida’s Shared Use non-motorized trail Network called SUN Trail.

Sun Trail LogoThe Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) SUN Trail program is a move towards supporting additional investment in Florida’s bicycle and pedestrian trails infrastructure. The $25 million in funding per year will help close gaps between existing off road trails and create a statewide network to enhance and improve the Florida Greeways and Trails system.

As part of the regional multi-use trails network, the Southwest Coastal Regional Trail was identified by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) in their 2015 Master Plan to be extended from Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg, connect with the Coast to Coast Connector through Tampa, and head south along the coast through Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, North Port, Ft. Myers, and Naples. When all of these connections are complete it will become part of the nation’s largest system of locally connected trails. This would greatly benefit the Tampa Bay region, and enhance Florida’s recreational opportunities while improving bicycle/pedestrian safety.

TBARTA coordinated all of the MPOs in our region to unite and identify the most crucial missing links, sending a clear message that was presented at the Florida Greenways and Trails Council public meeting held in Tallahassee on March 31, 2016. The importance of this collective effort is underscored by the Tampa Bay region’s current ranking as the second most dangerous place to walk and bike in the United States. Securing these funds and completing these projects will help serve our bicyclists and pedestrians and provide a safer more complete system of connected trails for recreation and for commutes. The Florida Greenways and Trails Council ranked TBARTA’s proposal third among seven regional trails. All this hard work and coordination will serve as a foundation for the future when applying for these much needed funds at the local, state, and federal levels to complete these critical connections.