NEW PORT RICHEY — Elected city council and county commission members gave their full agreement to a plan that would add both bicycle-pedestrian and golf cart trails crossing at the U.S. 19-Gulf Coast Highway bridge over the Pithlachascotee River, connecting Port Richey and New Port Richey.
The group’s approval came at the end of a presentation of four alternatives creating a Cotee River Trail during the officials’ recent joint session.
Paul Kurtz, senior landscape architect with the Los Angeles-based international engineering firm AECOM, described the four plans which were devised using public comments and the option of using or not using golf cart access.
One of the things the consultants had heard most often throughout the process was the desire for golf cart access, Kurtz said.
The plan, with a Phase I grand total of $3.6 million, is the most expensive and complex plan presented.
It would provide the desired golf cart access as part of an 18-foot wide trail providing a safe way for pedestrians to cross the busy highway.
The eastern connection part of the trail would begin at the end of Baylea Avenue, in Port Richey, then take a 90-degree turn to the south so that it runs parallel to U.S. 19 within the right-of-way.
The western connection would be within the existing highway right-of-way and merge with the existing sidewalk at River Gulf Road.
A “trail on-structure” would be constructed underneath the bridge with an 18-foot wide usable trail with a minimum vertical clearance of 8 feet.
It would be located between the sloped pavement and the northernmost part of the bridge piers.
This configuration also allows for overlook areas of the Pithlachascotee.
Kurtz said after getting direction from the elected officials, the plan would be presented to the members of the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization during its Oct. 10 meeting “to get their feedback” before the report is finalized in November.
The Pasco MPO is the county’s main transportation planning agency. Its board is comprised of the five County Commission members and representatives of Port Richey, New Port Richey, Dade City and Zephyrhills.
Officials from both Port Richey and New Port Richey expressed the importance of having the golf cast access as both are moving in the direction of becoming “golf cart communities.”
However, Florida Department of Transportation regulations have proved to be a speed bump in establishing a crossing of the highway.
The general FDOT policy is not to allow such a crossing, Kurtz said.
“However, there are exceptions to that,” Kurtz said. “Their preferred method of allowing them is ‘grade separated.’ In this case, it is ‘grade separated’ because there is a bridge that goes over. ‘Grade separated’ means going over or under. In this case, we are going under.”
He further explained there is a process to get the FDOT exemption.
“It’s not guaranteed, but you have to go through the process,” Kurtz said. “There are precedents that allow for this.”