Florida Senate bill would expand SUN trail network, funding

By FloridaBicyclist
Florida SUN trail Network

The Florida Senate has introduced a bill that aims to expand the statewide Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) trail both physically and financially.

Senate Bill 106, Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail Network, aims to connect the SUN Trail Network to the Florida Wildlife Corridor, establish and increase tourism to “trail towns,” and increase funding for the SUN Trail Network.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford), will increase the annual amount allocated to the SUN Trail Network from motor vehicle registration fees from $25 million to $50 million and also appropriates $200 million from the general fund to the Florida Department of Transportation to boost the planning, design, and construction of the SUN Trail Network.

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Florida Wildlife Corridor is not one giant strip of natural land, but rather is more like a quilt consisting of 17.9 million acres of different green spaces such as national parks, state forests, rivers and streams. About half of the corridor is made up of working ranchers and timberland, which provide compatible wildlife habitats while sustaining agricultural production.

“I envision Florida’s Wildlife Corridor as a top destination for bikers, runners, and other visitors. Expanding access, where appropriate, will allow the public to see the wonder, beauty, and importance of preserving these areas,” said Senator President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), who has prioritized expanding the Wildlife Corridor during her two-year term as Senate President.

According to the bill, any new trails built within the Wildlife Corridor should use previously disturbed lands, such as abandoned roads and railroads and utility rights-of-way whenever possible. The bill also directs FDOT to minimize gaps between trail segments and to make sure that local support exists for each trail, so that funding can be secured for things like maintenance.

The legislation also includes an existing campaign of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to recognize communities located along or in proximity to long-distance recreational trails as “Trail Towns.” The bill states that Visit Florida will be responsible for promoting trail-based tourism.

“By connecting the corridor to our trail system, more people across our state and around the world can experience Florida’s unique natural habitat at its finest, with the added benefit of connecting athletes and tourists with trail towns across Florida’s heartland,” said Senator Brodeur who serves as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government.

The bill’s next stop is on the agenda for the Jan. 7 Transportation Committee meeting.