Sumter commissioners abandon idea of linking Webster to massive state bicycle trail

Sumter County commissioners recently enhanced the completion of Florida’s 250-mile Coast-to-Coast biking and walking trail by abandoning plans for a Webster link.

In a Sept. 18 letter, Sumter County Board of Commissioners Chairman Don Burgess said the county now endorses putting the trail along State Highway 50 from the Van Fleet Trail to the Hernando County line. The 29-mile Van Fleet Trail in Polk, Lake and Sumter counties runs through the Green Swamp.

“During the lengthy analysis, it became clear that there was inadequate right-of-way to accommodate the preferred alignment through the City of Webster to the I-75 interchange (at county roads 476B and 671),” Burgess wrote in the letter to Michael Shannon, Florida Department of Transportation District 5 secretary. “At no time did Sumter County or the City of Webster support the use of eminent domain authority for trail purposes.”

Burgess said the county will stop ongoing design work for the Webster link “to support completion of the Coast-to-Coast Trail in a timely and cost-efficient manner, as well as reduce the costs of long-term maintenance that Sumter County will assume for this trail.”

Linking the trail to Webster could be explored later by city and FDOT officials, Burgess wrote.

“This is a solution from my perspective,” he told commissioners Tuesday at this week’s meeting, adding that the Webster link has been considered for five years.

The Coast-to-Coast Trail, which is about 80 percent complete, will run across Central Florida, linking St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast and Titusville on the Atlantic Ocean. About 50 miles of the trail uses the longest rail corridor ever acquired by the state.

In 2014, the Florida legislature allocated $50 million to fill gaps in existing trails to form the continuous route.

The trail will cut across nine counties and link existing trails that include the Pinellas Trail, the Tri-County Trail, two Starkey trails, the Withalacochee State Trail and the Van Fleet Trail.

In mid-November, Bike Florida is sponsoring a week-long tour along the trail route. The tour, which costs $2,250 to $3,000 including hotels and meals, currently is sold out and has a waiting list.