It's only a half-mile, but the bicycle path that the state has committed to build next summer in downtown Titusville could be the beginning of a trail that cuts through the heart of Central Florida and connects the east and west coasts.
"This is the first of many [such projects]," state Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said Monday.
Eventually, several popular Central Florida trails would become part of the cross-state trail, including the Seminole Wekiva, West Orange, South Lake and Van Fleet paths.
Gardiner, an avid cyclist, persuaded the state Legislature to set aside $50 million this spring to fill in the nearly 70 miles of missing sections that would complete a 275-mile trail from Cape Canaveral National Seashore to St. Petersburg.
But Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the allocation in May, saying the money should come from individual state Department of Transportation districts and other state and local agencies. Ananth Prasad, who runs FDOT, took up the challenge and has promised to fill in the gaps within five years, with Titusville serving as the kickoff.
Tim Bustos, president of the Florida Bicycle Association, predicted the Titusville link is the start of something big. If completed, the so-called Coast to Coast Connector would be one of the longest continuous trails closed to motorized traffic in the country.
And, as Bustos said, it would be the only one going from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. That could attract biking and walking enthusiasts from all over the world to Florida, especially during the state's warm winter months, he added.
The estimated price is $50 million, which Bustos characterized as a bargain. By comparison, the planned overhaul of Interstate 4 through downtown Orlando set for late next year is supposed to cost $2 billion, which breaks down to more than $95 million a mile.
Bustos said the riders, whether from in state or tourists, attracted to the Coast to Coast easily would spend $50 million annually on food and lodging.
"Have you ever seen a rider eat after riding 50 miles or 100 miles?" he said.
Daisy Lynum, the chairwoman of MetroPlan Orlando, said the West Orange Trail was instrumental in the revival of downtown Winter Garden, and the Coast to Coast could invigorate other communities throughout the state.
"We are working on this. We are not giving up," said Lynum, who also serves on the Orlando City Council.
The Titusville work is supposed to cost $3.6 million, with much of the money going for a bridge that would go over Garden Street. The path would follow an abandoned rail line from Draa Road to the north to Canaveral Avenue to the south.
It's expected to be finished in mid-2016 and should link it with another path in Titusville about to start that will hook with another line that would all the way to the Volusia County line. The cost of those two projects, covering 13.5 miles, is more than $5.5 million.
At that point, there is an 11-mile unfunded gap.
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