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Scott vetoes funding for cross-Florida bike trail

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Published:   |   Updated: May 21, 2013 at 06:46 AM

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CLEARWATER -

Getting from the Atlantic Ocean to Florida’s Gulf Coast on a bicycle won’t get easier anytime soon.

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday vetoed the $50 million Coast to Coast Connector project that would have created a single pedestrian and bicycle trail between Titusville and St. Petersburg. The project was among $368 in spending the governor vetoed in the budget the state Legislature approved this month.

Funding such a project through legislation, rather than through the state Department of Transportation, is unnecessary, Scott said.

“Look, I love to bike,” Scott said Monday at a press conference. “[But] we’re doing projects like that out of the Department of Transportation. That’s the way we should be doing that.”

The project would have linked pedestrian trails that already exist between the two coasts, the final leg of which would have been the Pinellas Trail. The popular trail runs along an old rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.

The Coast to Coast Connector would have linked the Pinellas Trail with Pasco County’s Starkey Trail, the Good Neighbor Trail in Hernando County, central Florida’s West Orange Trail and the East Central Regional Rail Trail.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” said Ken Bryan, Florida director of Rails to Trails, a national nonprofit. “It’s hurtful. We worked so hard to get here.”

The project was a marquee component of a plan DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails created to make it safer to traverse the state on a bicycle, something proponents argue would enhance Florida’s tourism economy.

The trail proposal is the latest in a multiyear beating the trails office has taken in recent years, when shrinking state revenues have reduced its staff to a fraction of what it was.

Bryan said he doesn’t believe the governor has alternative funding sources for the project.

“I’d love to see what he has in mind,” he said. “I just don’t see it.”

The connector did not make Florida TaxWatch’s list of budget “turkeys” this year, though the nonprofit group questioned whether the state could afford to build the trail in addition to other transportation projects.

That TaxWatch did not urge Scott to veto the connector led Bryan and others to believe it was safe, but not everyone was shocked by Scott’s veto.

“I am disappointed but not surprised,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, a member of the state’s Greenways and Trails advisory board. “This was added at the end of session, and that’s never the best way to go.”

A different approach could give the project another shot next year, though.

“I’m confident that next year it will get approved,” she said. “We will have a better handle on the true costs and economic advantages.”

Some think a connecting individual trails on a piecemeal basis is the way to go.

“This is a project that’s going to take a number of years to complete,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg. “I think it’s important to understand the governor’s concerns.”

Those concerns don’t extend to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which received $1 million for its planned expansion and another $4 million for a sequel to the “Dolphin Tale” movie about Winter, the marine center’s star attraction. Both projects evaded Scott’s veto, despite being dubbed “turkeys” by TaxWatch.

“I’ve seen ‘Dolphin Tale,’” Scott said. “I’ve met Winter when I went there.”

Critics say the governor needs to weigh the economic benefit of every proposal that crosses his desk.

“It saddens me that Rick Scott doesn’t understand the value of the trail,” said J. Steele Olmstead, a personal injury attorney and co-director of Southwest Florida Bicycle United Dealers.


kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Tribune reporters James Rosica and Laura Kinsler contributed to this report.

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