Should Sarasota County property owners pay $65 million to purchase six miles of unused railway and convert it into a paved pathway that connects the existing Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota? That’s a question voters will answer in November, when they will decide whether to approve a bond referendum that would pay for the project.
Supporters say the extension would create a safe pathway for bikers, walkers and runners, plus attract tourists. The Friends of the Legacy Trail estimates that the extension could triple the number of those who use it.
Opponents balk at the $65 million price tag even though the purchase price has been set at 14 percent below the property’s appraised value. To pay for the bond, property owners would be charged roughly $8 more per year per $100,000 in assessed value on their land, according to an analysis conducted by the Friends.
The Legacy Trail opened in 2007. Almost 11 miles long, it runs from the Venice Train Depot northward to Culverhouse Nature Park just south of Clark Road. More than 225,000 bikers, walkers and runners used the trail last year.
Sarasota County has already earmarked $7.9 million to purchase 2.6 miles of additional railway to lengthen the Legacy Trail from Culverhouse Nature Park to Ashton Road and connect the trail to Clark Road.
If the $65 million bond is approved by voters, it would extend the trail from Ashton Road through Pinecraft, west to downtown Sarasota and north to Fruitville Road. Out of the $65 million, $30.1 million would be spent to acquire the railway from CSX Transportation and Seminole Gulf Railway. Another $33 million would cover tearing out the railroad tracks, paving the corridor, constructing overpasses over Clark Road and Bee Ridge Road and installing bathrooms and water fountains. The rest of the money would go toward extending the trail to the south and east, connecting it to North Port.