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$50M approved to connect bike trails in Florida

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 10:15 p.m.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — State lawmakers have approved $50 million to link more than 200 miles of existing bike trails across central Florida.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants to bridge 72 miles of gaps among more than a dozen regional trails from St. Petersburg to Titusville. Once completed, the trail would be the longest continuous bike path in Florida.

The Coast to Coast Connector, as the trails project is called, is part of the department's Florida Greenways and Trails System plan, which eventually would build a network of walking and biking trails statewide.

A department spokesman tells The Tampa Tribune that the trail would increase tourism and economic development.

“If you have a large trail that doesn't have bits and pieces missing from it, it really becomes an attraction,” said Patrick Gillespie. “Then you've got people staying in those communities, spending money in those communities, and that's where you get your economic impact.”

Money for the project would come from the state's transportation trust fund and be rolled out over five years in $10 million increments. Most of the funding would go toward buying land needed to link the trails.

Gov. Rick Scott could still veto the project. He did not include it in his proposed budget.

The project would link trails in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties before heading east. It would then connect with trails near Orlando and along the Atlantic coast.

Supporters say a trail system can boost economic development as it has in Dunedin, where business occupancy in the downtown area has grown from 30 percent in the 1980s to nearly 100 percent since a Pinellas County trail cut through its main street in 1991.

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