TAMPA — Construction of the long-awaited northernmost segment of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail will finally get underway early next year, with completion sometime in 2015.
The project was delayed last year by a lawsuit filed by eye doctor James P. Gill III, who said the planned route for the 4.3 mile segment encroached on the southern edge of Gill’s Oak Hammock Ranch in the Keystone-Odessa area. But a judge denied Gill’s request for an injunction.
The Hillsborough County public works department spent most of this year acquiring the necessary environmental permits, advertising and taking bids on the construction work.
“We’ve finally gotten through the permitting process,” said Richard Sanders, the project manager. “It’s gone through the bidding process, and the bids are under review. It’s likely to be the first of the year before anything’s awarded.”
This latest segment will start on Van Dyke Road near Gunn Highway and run north-northeast to the Sun Coast Trail, which continues north to Hernando County. Construction is estimated to take 400 days, Sanders said, and cost roughly $6 million.
The project will include a trailhead west of Suncoast Parkway on Lutz-Lake Fern Road with 55 parking spaces, restrooms and a covered pavilion with picnic tables.
Ben Cruz and his family were using the portion of the trail Monday between Waters Avenue and Citrus Park. Cruz said he definitely wants to try the northern portion once it’s finished.
“I normally just kind of stay in this area,” said Cruz, who was wearing a round straw hat for protection from the sun. “I’ve never tried to go up past the ramp on Citrus Park. I never really explored that, but I need too.”
The black-topped trail meanders through commercial and residential neighborhoods, and nearby traffic is always background noise to the chirping birds and insect buzz. Palmettos, palms and live oaks dot the natural landscape, buffering to some extent the droning urban din.
The trail is wide enough for bicycles to pass each other going both ways, and its gently rolling hills provide a challenging workout, even for seasoned bikers. Cyclists and runners can take a breather on metal benches along the asphalt path or eat lunch at the many picnic tables.
“They have clean bathrooms, and there’s plenty of shade toward the Citrus Park side,” Cruz said.
The final link of the trail, from Peterson Road to Van Dyke Road, is likely years away. Sanders said the county has had to look at alternative routes for that segment because property owners along the preferred path don’t want it to cross their land.
Unless they change their minds, the county will likely swing the trail west, crossing the Lake Rogers Park area. The park land is owned by St. Petersburg but managed by Hillsborough County.
The alternate route will take the trail about 2 miles out of the way, Sanders said, but may be less expensive than having to take private property through the eminent domain process.
“We’ll probably have a public meeting in the spring to discuss those,” Sanders said. “We’ll have all the alternate routes for the public to take a look at.”