The Hillsborough County Commission's recent unanimous vote to extend the Upper Tampa Bay Trail has the $3.8 million project on track, but the road to its completion will be a hike, rather than a sprint.
The trail used by more than 300,000 people annually has been pieced together during the past 15 years as land and money became available. The meandering seven-mile recreational path stretches from Memorial Highway through rural northwest Hillsborough County.
The 4.3-mile addition will extend the 12-foot wide paved trail from Van Dyke Road through the Brooker Creek Headwaters Preserve and Lutz-Lake Fern Road to connect to the Suncoast Trail.
The timeline outlined by the county includes reviews by outside agencies and would push the extension opening into 2014.
County project manager Richard Sanders said permit applications were filed in May. "We're answering requests for additional information from environmental agencies," including the Southwest Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.
"Both agencies put it out for public comment" before issuing the individual permits, Sanders said.
"We anticipate it will be one or two months before we get final permits."
Additionally, the county awaits approval for the funding that will come from the federal government, an award managed locally by Florida's Department of Transportation.
"That's not expected to be done until sometime in October," Sanders said.
The trail extension involves a conservation easement, and Environmental Protection Agency approval for that is expected this week, Sanders said.
On Aug. 2, the county commission voted 7-0 to complete this penultimate segment to the trail.
Once the project is approved by the outside agencies, the county will advertise for bids and select a contractor. Construction will not be speedy.
"We've put a timeframe on it of about 400 days," Sanders said. "It's pretty much just like building a roadway, so it's going to be a little time consuming, he said. "And there's a trailhead facility in there, as well," plus a half-mile of boardwalk spanning wetlands near Lutz-Lake Fern Road.