Mutz Insists on Boardwalks for the Planned West Lake Hunter Trail

A recreational trail along the west side of Lake Hunter should make heavy use of boardwalks over the lake instead of hugging the shoreline, even if it means the city of Lakeland supplements the project’s state funding, Mayor Bill Mutz said today.

During an agenda preview meeting this morning, Mutz contrasted the recreational amenities of a meandering boardwalk with the current proposal to build a 10- to 12-foot pathway alongside Sikes Boulevard, a prospect he called dangerous.

His comments came as commissioners reviewed a proposed resolution giving City Commission support to the trail and a study from the Florida Department of Transportation recommending a route that stays close to Sikes Boulevard.

View the proposed City Commission resolution and the full Lake Hunter Trail Route Alternatives report here or at the end of this article.

“I would strongly oppose this if it did not include the design phase over the water. across Lake Hunter. I think we would be missing a huge opportunity,” he said, adding that Sikes Boulevard is “a dangerous and fast corridor. This is where it should not go.”

City transportation planner Chuck Barmby responded that plans for an extended boardwalk would require further environmental studies, costing an estimated $1 million and further delaying a project that is already projected to be completed six or seven years from now.

But Mutz and Commissioner Stephanie Madden insisted that the project is an important connector and it’s worth taking the extra time and expense to build what the commission wants rather than a trail they think will be under-utilized.

The West Lake Hunter Trail segments studied by the Florida Department of Transportation. At both the southern and northern ends of the lake, FDOT favors the alternatives closer to Sikes Boulevard, adding grassed slopes and retaining walls in areas where the lake comes close to the current sidewalk.

The West Lake Hunter Trail would run between Ariana Street and Lime Street; it is viewed as a pathway to connect people to the western part of downtown Lakeland and the soon-to-open Bonnet Springs Park west of Lake Wire.

Mutz told LkldNow he envisions parts of it meandering through the western third of the lake and include bump-outs that would allow people to fish and not obstruct pedestrians, joggers and bike riders.

When commissioners held a workshop about the trail in October (see our article), Mutz mentioned that he favored the route alternatives that showed short boardwalk segments at the southern and northern ends of Lake Hunter. No mention was made of extensive boardwalks at that meeting.

For a short while today, commissioners and their staff discussed approving the route preferred by the DOT that stays close to the street and adding boardwalks later. But Mutz and Madden rejected that idea as inefficient and costly.

If the commission were to endorse the DOT’s preferred pathway, design could commence without the need for a detailed Project Development and Environmental study, Barmby said.

However, if the city pursues boardwalks, the design funds that are already programmed by the state would probably be used instead for an environmental study, and then the city would need to seek design funds and construction funds after that, Barmby said. Under that scenario, it would probably be 2026 or 2027 before design would be funded, he said.

Commissioners today decided to hold off on a vote on the resolution supporting the proposed trail route. The formal vote had been scheduled for Tuesday, but the commission is giving its staff two weeks to work though the issues and revise the language of the resolution.

UPDATE: Mutz told LkldNow Saturday afternoon that the commission found out after their meeting that they will have to wait a year to submit a plan if they don’t approve one by their meeting on Tuesday. “Hence, I have authorized staff to make revisions to the existing resolution that would include specifically our desire for boardwalk options as well and we will vote on that and Tuesday meeting.”

During today’s discussion, Commissioner Chad McLeod asked Barmby if a Product Development and Environmental study of the over-the-water alternative could result in a finding that boardwalks are not feasible.

Barmby replied that it’s a possibility because PD&E studies are required to include a no-build alternative.

McLeod said he likes the “over-the-water” alternative but doesn’t want the city to discover in several years that the study concludes boardwalks won’t be feasible.

Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley expressed concerns about the cost of conducting yet another feasibility study.

Barmby suggested the city proceed with the “good” option of the current plan now while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the “awesome” boardwalk option for later, adding that state recreational funds might be available for an over-the-water route.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden argued against that approach: “I am fed up with getting FDOT dollars just to build a bikeway that nobody uses because it’s built right to a very dangerous roadway. I don’t want money for a path that I don’t want to use myself and I don’t want my family to use because it’s dangerous.”

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