Trails and greenways that connect to other counties are nonexistent in Manatee County, but that will change soon. A greenway is coming here in a few years.
Running from U.S. 301 to Interstate 75, the Willow-Ellenton Greenway will be constructed in fiscal year 2019 at a cost of $511,111 thanks to the Shared-Use, Nonmotorized Trails System. The Florida Department of Transportation announced the funding during Monday’s Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.
“This trail will link portions of Parrish and north down into Palmetto and Ellenton, potentially taking us back to the Gamble Mansion State Park and into the city of Palmetto, where it will link up with an aggressive program being undertaken by the city of Palmetto,” said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County’s parks and natural resources director. “We’ve been working toward these ideas, visions and goals for many, many years.”
SUN Trail, which is a statewide effort, was created by the Florida Legislature, which passed bills in both 2014 and 2015 to fund the program. A minimum of $25 million annually will be allocated by FDOT for projects within the network.
The Willow-Ellenton Trail dates back more than 14 years as it is included in the Manatee County Greenways Master Plan, which was approved by the Manatee County Commission in July 2002. But not a single proposal in it has ever been funded or implemented.
“We’ve done the plans,” Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said in April. “We just have no money.”
In the 2002 plan, more than 80 miles of trails were proposed and since then, the proposals were narrowed to two priorities: the Willow-Ellenton and the Gateway Greenway.
“The Willow-Ellenton Trail is proposed to be a 17-mile (approximate) recreational, non-motorized and multi-purpose trail to be placed within an existing rail corridor to run parallel to the Parrish and Palmetto rail corridor,” according to the 2002 plan.
In 2017, there will be some progress made on the Gateway Greenway trail.
“We already own the real estate for the most part; we will be working to advance the first stages also next year,” Hunsicker said.
Also on Monday, the MPO:
- Learned that Florida Department of Transportation should be selecting a consultant for the mainland-islands traffic study this week. “We anticipate that study being fully underway in the next few months,” said David Hutchinson, MPO executive director.
- Instructed MPO staff to present possible short-term traffic remedies for the barrier islands at the board’s next meeting in January. The possibility of water taxis were discussed Monday. “It is a good tourist attraction and gets some cars off the road,” Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “We do a lot of studies, but let’s move on them. Let’s get some results going on them.”
- Approved an amendment to the fiscal years 2016-17 through 2020-21 Transportation Program for the Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis to add $1.515 million for preliminary engineering. The analysis should be complete within 1 1/2 years.
- Heard highlights of the Draft Tentative Work Program for 2017-18 through 2021-22.
- Appointed Sarasota Mayor Willie Charles Shaw as MPO chairman and Baugh as vice-chairwoman for the coming year.