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From Rails to Trails

From Rails to Trails

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    “Offering people a place to reconnect with nature and exercise just might encourage them to bicycle to work or walk around our neighborhoods and reconnect with neighbors,” says Alex Boudreau, PE, project manager with Sarasota County Public Works' Capital Management Services. Photos: Gibbs & Register Inc.

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    The railbeds of the former Venice to Sarasota rail trail were transformed into nearly 11 miles of asphalt paved trails for walkers, joggers, hikers, and cyclists.

PROJECT INFO

Name: Legacy Trail

AEC firm: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB)

Project delivery method: Design-build

Cost: $27 million

Completed: March 2008

Envisioned two decades ago as a haven for walkers, hikers, cyclists, and joggers, the centerpiece of Sarasota County's trail system transforms 11 miles of abandoned railroad beds into paved trail.

“It's an ideal way to utilize unused land while restoring some local history,” says Rex Huffman, vice president of construction contractor Gibbs & Register Inc., in reference to the industry and the infrastructure that saved the local economy from the grips of the Great Depression.

It's also extremely cost-effective. “Design and construction costs were reasonable because the subbase has been compacted with years of heavy loads,” adds Huffman. “The sites are already cleared, the railroad beds are high and dry, and storm drainage is normally a nonissue.”

The county bought the CSX railroad corridor in 2004 in partnership with nonprofit land conservation organization Trust for Public Land using $11.5 million in infrastructure surtax continuation funds and communications services tax revenues.

An additional $1 million financed forming the railroad beds into primitive trails, which was the first phase of the project.

Another $15.4 million from infrastructure surtaxes, utility rates, and general revenues paid for the second phase: designing and building 10.6 miles of 12-foot-wide asphalt trail; rehabilitating four bridges and installing two new ones; and building eight access connections, one of which links users to the Venetian Waterway Park via the historic Venice Train Depot, where trails lead to a nature center and a beach.

All of this required integrating environmental constraints, historical requirements, stormwater management, and the county's master trail plan.

Gibbs & Register partnered with VHB Inc. to design the trail system.

As lead design VHB handled permitting, which included preparing an environmental resource permit required by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and minimizing potential impacts to threatened and endangered species such as gopher tortoises and scrub jays. Working with a geo-technical consultant, VHB also identified arsenic-contaminated soils that were buried under the trail at various locations.

“The county was extremely impressed with the design-build project delivery method,” says VHB Director of Transportation Mark Bertoncini.

The county celebrated its new trail's first anniversary with exhibits, bike helmet giveaways, a barbeque, and live entertainment. But the work isn't over yet.

Construction on two trestles over waterways will begin this year to allow full use of the corridor as well as the ability to connect to another local trail to the south. And plans to add amenities in a third phase are in the works.