Tallahassee, Florida -- Florida lawmakers have set aside $50 million to complete a biking and hiking trail from Pinellas to Brevard County and now the fate of the project rests with Gov. Rick Scott.
The so-called Coast-to-Coast Connector trail would stretch from St. Petersburg to Titusville. The project would hook up more than a dozen existing trails, including the Pinellas Trail, by completing about 70 miles of gaps.
The finished trail would be 275 miles, making it the longest in Florida and one of the largest in the country.
State lawmakers propose spending $50 million on the project over the next five years. It's a lot of money but the Rails to Trails Conservancy contends the project would deliver a positive economic impact.
Spokesman Ken Bryan says a study of three bike trails in Orange County finds they produce hundreds of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy.
"Just three little trails supported 516 jobs in Orange County annually and it generated $42.6 million into the local economy. That's some real good data and some foreshadowing of what a larger trail system can do. The return on investment is definitely there. There are projections that range from 3-to-1 return upwards to a 9-to-1 return. The North Carolina DOT did a study on some trails there and they found a 9-to-1 return on investment in that case."
Bryan also points to the Pinellas Trail as a great example of how bike paths can boost the economy.
He says Dunedin businesses have benefited a lot from the trail over the past 20 years and it has served as a model for other Florida cities looking for ways to boost their economies.
"Dunedin has its DNA on a lot of open trails right now in the state of Florida."
Asked about the prospects for the Connector trail staying in the proposed budget, Gov. Scott's office said he is reviewing the budget right now.