It’s all the buzz. Residents have been expressing great enthusiasm about the potential for a bike and walking trail to connect downtown Mount Dora to neighboring downtown Tavares. The project is currently being studied for its feasibility, so Mount Dora Buzz wanted to find out more about the process and how long it could take. We sought out valuable insight of impassioned Tav-Dora trail expert, Tavares City Manager John Drury, and T.J. Fish, a community planner and advocate for the Wekiva Trail for over a decade.
1. When is the study expected to be complete and who is doing it? The completion date is set for May 30th 2020. Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) contracted Alfred & Benesch & Company to do the project.
2. What will the study include? It will evaluate the feasibility and cost of developing a paved non- motorized (bicycles, rollerblading and walking) trail to connect downtown Tavares to downtown Mount Dora with a connection to the Golden Triangle YMCA along the Old 441 corridor in one of the following three (3) locations:
In the railroad bed (“Rail-to-Trail” project).
In the railroad right-of-way next to the railroad (“Rail-and-Trail”)
In the Old 441 right-of-way
3. Why does the study take a year? The first phase of the study will include evaluation of existing conditions, data collection, identification of natural resources, rights-of-way assessment, plus crash, traffic and drainage data. The first phase will also develop base maps and an existing conditions report.
The second phase (also scheduled for completion on May 30, 2020) will develop three alternative locations (as above), map out the alternatives, evaluate each one on utilities, drainage, cost and environmental impact, and develop a comparative analysis report. This phase will also develop a public involvement process on selecting the preferred alternative, as well as contain a final report on the preferred alternative and develop preliminary cross sections.
4. What will a bike trail do economically for Tavares and Mount Dora? A 2011 Orange County study found that the West Orange Trail, connecting Apopka, downtown Winter Garden and Clermont, had 1.7 million annual trail visitors that spend an average of $20 per trail visit at local businesses. Trail visitors’ total annual spending was $32.6 million. A Pinellas Trail study cited 1 million annual trail users. The numbers would be less for the Tav-Dora Trail due to the lower regional population, but it would still be significant.
5. Is it feasible to have the train resume service next to the trail or just construct the trail on the railbed? The study will answer that question, however Drury doesn’t believe the railroad will permit a trail next to an active rail.
6. If Tavares, Mount Dora and Lake County agree to pursue the Tav-Dora Trail, what are the chronological steps in the process?
Do the Study (in progress).
Find out if the communities want to pursue it.
Get Lake-Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to identify it as a priority project.
Get the funding lined up with the State of Florida.
Do an environmental Impact Study.
Purchase property or right-of-way (ROW) needed for the project.
Do a Preliminary Design and Engineering Study (PD&E).
Design the project.
Build the project.
7. What is the earliest residents could expect to see the Tav-Dora Trail completed? What is the more likely timeframe? Fastest would be five years. Most likely would be 8 years.
8. What will likely be the greatest obstacle? Cost
9. Drury has been the driving force behind the trail. We asked him what makes him so passionate about it?
Improves the Quality of life for Mount Dora’s, Tavares’s and Lake County’s people.
Improves economic conditions in both downtowns
Cleans up and beautifies the old 441 corridor
10. Fish is an expert on the Wekiva Trail, so we asked him what is the separate status of the Sorrento-Mount Dora section of the Wekiva Trail which would connect downtown Mount Dora to the existing Central Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail?(That trail spans more than 200 miles from Cape Canaveral National Seashore to downtown St. Petersburg) The Sorrento-Mount Dora section was supposed to enter into design phase last year, but the City of Mount Dora and Lake County returned the funding to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and decided to delay considering the trail until the acquisition of the rail right-of-way was assured. This effectively resulted in the trail stopping at Sorrento for the foreseeable future.
“Dealing with FDOT and two railroad companies is daunting, but it can be done,” said Fish.
The City may study other trail routes, which would add years to the project. Meanwhile, a previous study indicated the proposed trail corridor from Sorrento to Mount Dora was best option.
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