Project to close the gap

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By Chris Van Ormer

INVERNESS — Trail riders, volunteers and supporters turned out by the dozens at the most recent county commission meeting to support the Withlacoochee State-Dunnellon Trail Connector.

Their attendance emphasized how important the connector is to the trail, to the economy and to linking the Citrus and Marion counties together, said County Administrator Brad Thorpe at the April 8 meeting of the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

“I want to commend Jeff Rogers for coming up with a creative way to try to do this in a two-step process,” Thorpe said. “We’d love to build the whole thing at once. But, as with anything, money is tight and we’d like to get FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) to get on board with us and help us fund this project. So (the) idea is to take one step at a time: get the alignment configured, the design work done, then hand over the shovel-ready project to FDOT and hopefully they’ll fund a great majority of it.” 

County Public Works Director Jeff Rogers said the project was submitted for inclusion in the 2015 Capital Improvement Plan for preliminary engineering study (PD&E), design and construction. 

Rogers recommended combining the PD&E and design and to budget all phases in the current fiscal year.

By a unanimous vote, commissioners agreed to submit the connector project to the Transportation Planning Organization board (TPO) for approval.

Commissioners also agreed to pay $127,800 to Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc. for the alignment selection and design phase of the Withlacoochee State-Dunnellon Trail Connector project.

Trail alignments and construction cost estimates will be brought before the BOCC this summer for approval. At that time, the BOCC can address the cost of the alignments. Funding would be drawn from a contingency reserve account that has an available balance of $393,339.

“Today, we’re going to talk about closing the gap and that is from the Gulf Junction Trail Head at Citrus Springs to the recently completed trail head at County Road 39 just off of (U.S.) 41,” said Commissioner Dennis Damato. 

Damato, who showed slide photographs of his recent trip to that part of the trail, described the next moves as necessary to connect the two trails.

“This project is in place and our trail ends right now up in Citrus Springs. That’s what’s called the gap,” Damato said. “The whole idea behind this was to close the gap between those two.”

Damato said a master trail map that he has produced with staff and public comments would return to the BOCC in early June. He said he thought the map would precede the connector plan.

“I’m tickled to death because I didn’t think we’d get to today before we got the trail map done,” Damato said. Three potential connectors have been mapped. Damato said he supported Plan B, a route from Gulf Junction Trailhead using West Delmane Drive.

“The beauty part of Plan B is that road lines up pretty much with County Road 39,” Damato said. “To me, that was vitally important to view that, because I just wanted to report to you that the state is going to have to be mightily involved with this because we’re going to have pedestrians crossing U.S. 41. In my opinion, the best route would be Delmane. It would be the least expensive, although there is an economic component to going north and going by the Front Porch (restaurant). I think it’s much more dangerous to make the crossing on a tangent. There’s another way to reach those businesses with a short jog off the existing trail into the back door of those properties. I’m just tickled to death if this gap is happening so fast.” 

Contact Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer at 352-564-2916 or cvanormer@chronicleonline.com.