Council OKs conceptual trail plans

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TPO will forward plans to FDOT for design phase

By Jeff Bryan

A proposed $4 million economic “engine” received a needed boost Monday night as the city council formally approved the conceptual design for the East Pennsylvania Avenue Multi-Modal Project in which the Florida Department of Transportation will cover most, if not all, of the construction costs.

“The whole project is incredibly exciting,” Councilman Bill White said. “I think this is the key to Dunnellon’s future. I think we’re getting into something here. People are always asking, ‘What are we going to do to turn (the future) around? I think this is the beginning of that. I look at Dunnellon and ask, ‘How is this dropping in our laps?’”

The project will begin at Blue Run Park and extend to the Dunnellon Chamber & Business Association offices. In addition, it will feature a stand-alone bridge for cyclists and pedestrians only, costing upward of $1 million, adjacent to the current bridge for automobile traffic. The concept for this project began in earnest in 2012, but gained steam several years ago when FDOT officials indicated the state agency would cover most of the costs of the project. The bridge will be pre-fabricated and the council was shown three different options.

Mayor Dale Burns asked about the frequency of maintenance on the stand-alone bridge, adding depending on the cost and frequency of doing so, and recommended seeing which of the three options would be best suited to reduce the cost of maintenance.

“I’m trying to look down the road,” Burns explained.

Out of the whole project, White said, he is excited most about the bridge.

“I became a real fan of it when I walked over the bridge of the Withlacoochee River,” he said about the current trail which spans the famed river. “I encourage you to make that walk. It’s breathtaking; absolutely awesome.”

With the addition of the more than three-quarter-mile stretch of the 12-foot wide multi-modal path, it will eliminate on-street parking. With the council’s formal support, the conceptual design will be presented to the Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) on Feb. 26, at which time it will forward its findings to FDOT. From there, it will enter the design phase, which could take between three to five years. Construction, said Amber Gartner, project manager with Kimley-Horn, would not begin for another five to seven years because the project has yet to be in the funding pipeline; however, Gartner cautioned, the project, if funded sooner, could begin before the projected timeline.

“This piece in Dunnellon sits in a great position in the overall trail system in Marion County and the surrounding area,” Gartner explained. “It’s in the middle of this Heart of Florida Loop … it’s a great economic opportunity.”

There have been a lot of studies done about economic impact of trails, she explained, citing the West Orange Trail in Orange County has provided a significant boost to the economy in Winter Garden. Marion County recognizes this, Gartner said and it “could benefit Downtown Dunnellon.”

“It’s a huge impact to the outdoor community, you have a lot of outdoor recreation,” she said. “This is another way to compliment the outdoor ecotourism. It’s proven to increase downtown traffic, development and improve economic prosperity.”

The crux of the project will see East Pennsylvania Avenue, a county-managed road, undergo a major facelift, from the reduction of land widths (13 feet to 11 feet), the loss of on-street parking, a turn lane, strategically located pedestrian crossings and landscaped islands to enhance the ascetics of the corridor. In addition to the street-scaping East Pennsylvania Avenue will undergo, the antiquated water and sewer lines under the road will be replaced during construction.

There has been plenty of discussion about the redesign of East Pennsylvania Avenue, Gartner said. Kimley-Horn, along with the TPO, conducted a number of Stakeholder Meetings as well as targeted meetings with business and property owners to gauge their concerns.

“Everyone is generally supportive of this concept,” she added, noting the removal of on-street parking was not a concern. “It creates a safety hazard.”

One key, Gartner said, was officials did not want access to properties altered that would be damaging to businesses.

“We took all of that input into consideration,” she said. “We took a close look at the concept, regarding access, pedestrian crossing locations and the landscaped islands. It improves the pedestrian environment along the corridor.”

To review the complete conceptual plans for the East Pennsylvania Multi-Modal Path, view this story at www.riverlandnews.com.

In other action, the council:

* Authorized Marion County to commence with construction of its restroom project at Blue Run Park.

“We’ve been working on this for quite some time,” said County Commissioner Kathy Bryant. “Marion County is just so excited to be one of the premiere partners with the city. We look forward to seeing this project finished. We’re working diligently to close any gaps we might have. We’re working hard to make sure we are good stewards to the Rainbow River.”

Within 30 days of gathering necessary reports and permits, construction will start on the $300,000-plus project.

“Once the rail connection gets completed, you’re going to see a lot more trail users in your community,” said Jim Couillard, director of Marion County Parks & Recreation.

* Approved Proclamation No. 2019-02 for Dunnellon Masonic Lodge No. 136.

* Approved Proclamation to Wendell Speer for the Withlacoochee River Poem Project.

* First reading of Ordinance No. 2019-01, stormwater system illicit discharge and connection.

* Approved Resolution No. 2019-03, establishing procedures to disclose quasi-judicial ex parte communications.

* Heard a quarterly budget update from Finance Director Jan Smith.