In signing the record $77 billion budget on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott approved the Coast-to-Coast Connector, a projected 275-mile bike and pedestrian trail across Florida, which will ultimately connect St. Petersburg to Merritt Island.
The budget contains $15.5 million to linking the patchwork of trails into one uninterrupted path starting at the Pinellas Trail as an uninterrupted shot from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
Funds will go to fill in eight gaps in the trail; the longest approximately 20 miles in south Sumter County. Overall, the project will construct about 66 miles of roadway for hiking, walking and biking.
Part of the network will be the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a popular Pinellas County bike route following an old rail line between St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.
Last year, Scott vetoed $50 million set aside for the project. Now it had become a favorite of incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, who is a triathlete and fitness buff. Gardiner persuaded Scott to approve it in this budget.
Advocates say once the connector is completed; it will provide an economic gain to the state economy; by creating jobs and improving tourism and outdoor activities, the trail will bring money to local communities.
The $15.5 million for the trail is a share of a single $216.5 million line item in the budget, according to Florida Senate spokesperson Katie Betta, which is listed as “arterial highway construction” in the State Transportation Trust Fund.
Earmarked in the budget is another $11.4 million for the connector in the Transportation Department budget, bringing the total to nearly $27 million.
Holly Parker, Florida Trails Association vice president, told the Tampa Tribune last month that the trail will connect Tampa Bay and Orlando — two of the state’s largest metropolitan areas.
“And being able to go from coast to coast,” she said, “is going to be spectacular.”