For those who share the dream of waking up to an Atlantic sunrise and biking across the state to enjoy a Gulf Coast sunset, the funding and completion of Florida’s Coast to Coast Connector is highly anticipated. The multi-use Connector trail would stretch 275 miles from Titusville to St. Petersburg, filling in gaps between approximately 200 miles of existing stretches of trail.
But not so fast, says Florida TaxWatch — a nonprofit watchdog that tasks itself with scrutinizing every line of the budget to raise flags on items which may have circumvented proper review in the budgeting process.
The Connector did not make the TaxWatch annual Turkey Watch Report because the project had been included in the Senate budget from the beginning and was a priority for the Department of Environmental Protection. However, it was highlighted in the report for other reasons which TaxWatch wishes Governor Rick Scott to consider before approving the 5-year, $50 million project.
TaxWatch expresses concern over any project — such as the Connector — which is funded from the State Transportation Trust Fund but is not included in the Department of Transportation work program. Although language in the budget implementing bill provides that Connector funds “may not reduce, delete, or defer any existing projects” in the work program, DOT has not confirmed to TaxWatch that this is possible.
“The Governor should confirm that this project will not affect existing transportation projects before he approves the appropriation,” the watchdog report reads.
All good points. But here are some other factors for Gov. Scott to consider before he inks up the veto pen: The Connector would provide significant economic benefit to the region, and state. Currently, three Central Florida trails are estimated to support $42 million of annual economic impact and 516 jobs, and the return on investment expected from building such a corridor is approximately nine times the cost.
These estimates reflect data corroborated by the National Association of Homebuyers (2008) that claim trails are the number one community amenity sought by American home buyers, and by Visit Florida (2012) that estimates three-quarters of Florida’s 87 million annual visitors participate in nature-based activities.
Gov. Scott has good reason to let this project roll on in high gear.