It was one of the area’s most anticipated projects and a projected boon to the local economies of two Lake County cities. The proposed Tav-Dora Trail was planned to connect Mount Dora and Tavares along the railway corridor that currently connects the downtowns of the two cities. If the project’s outcome was anything like the success of West Orange Trail’s effect on Winter Garden, residents could have seen improvement in both quality of life and property values.
In the spring of 2020, the two cities, Lake County, Florida Central Railroad Company and CSX Transportation (CSX) were all supportive of the trail concept. Florida Central Railroad owns the actual railroad tracks and CSX owns the property the tracks are on. In April 2020, both companies expressed their support of the project in letters to Lake County and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
On April 27, 2020, the CSX regional manager sent a letter to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation in Washington D.C. stating the company was “pleased to support the Cities of Tavares, Mount Dora, and Lake County’s efforts to acquire a BUILD grant for acquisition of CSXT’s freight rail corridor under a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) and the development of the Wekiva Connector Extension.” The letter continued, “We believe this project to provide a safe and convenient path will benefit the many residents of the area. In order to support the project, CSXT is willing to discuss a sale of the corridor to Lake County. We appreciate Lake County’s willingness to submit the grant application and manage the grant upon award.”
CSX’s letter also noted they had not attempted to set forth all of the essential terms of a potential sale and purchase of the corridor, but the minimum price would be $15,000,000. The correspondence also stipulated that the letter of support wasn’t binding, but rather a basis for the parties to negotiate a definitive agreement in the future.
WIth all stakeholders on the same page, Lake County, Mount Dora, and Tavares spent considerable time and money to advance the project and seek a Federal BUILD grant to help fund the acquisition of the property from CSX.
Fast forward to November, 2022, and CSX abruptly announced it was no longer going to sell the rail corridor. “CSX is committed to serving our customers and positioning the company for future growth. As such, we are working to preserve our regulated corridors to support the company’s long-term business needs,” said the company’s spokesperson.
If CSX does not return to the table, other alternatives for the Tav-Dora Trail are being considered. One option is for the trail to be built in the railroad’s right of way (ROW) next to the rail line. A second option is to construct a trail in the Old Highway 441 ROW, rather than CSX’s rail ROW. The options will take time to flush out in preliminary cost and funding, so the recent reversal of CSX significantly extends the amount of time before shovels could hit the dirt to construct a trail.