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'Opportunity to do something special': Pedestrian bridge options explored

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A potential design on display in City Hall for a bridge that links the Town Common to River Park North. (Joe Pellegrino/The Daily Reflector)

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Shannon Keith

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Greenville architect said a potential project connecting the city north and south of the Tar River would “be the start of something big.” 

“We have the chance to do something here that would be a regional draw,” Robert Griffin said Tuesday during a meeting to discuss the possible construction of a pedestrian bridge across the river that would connect Greenville’s Town Common and River Park North. “We have an opportunity to do something special.” 

City staff and members of a design team with Alta Planning and Design — a firm that specializes in the planning, design, engineering and implementation of bicycle, pedestrian, park and trail facilities — held a series of meetings this week as part of a design and feasibility study on the bridge project.

Greenville’s Tar River Legacy Plan, Town Common Master Plan and Horizons 2026 Plan all recommend a pedestrian bridge connecting the 25-acre Town Common to the 324-acre River Park North. The study is being conducted to look at the feasibility of constructing the bridge and to determine what the estimated cost of the project would be.

The Greenville City Council last month approved the $25,000 study, which is part of the city’s Active Transportation Master Plan to connect Greenville and surrounding areas through bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways and greenway systems. The N.C. Department of Transportation is reimbursing the city for 80 percent — or $20,000 — of the study’s cost.

“This is an offshoot of the master plan that deals specifically with connectivity across the river,” Daryl Vreeland, a transportation planner with the city, said. “This is exploring every way to get across the river.”

Vreeland said members of Alta’s design team on Monday walked both sides of the Tar River at the Town Common and River Park North to look at potential construction sites.

“They looked at what type of zoning exists in those areas and what kinds of constraints there would be,” he said. “These guys really know what they are doing.”

The design team held a conceptual design workshop with local stakeholders on Tuesday and developed several different design options based on input from the meetings. Those concepts were displayed Tuesday night during an open house. 

“We think of this bridge as a destination ... a bridge to somewhere,” Wade Walker, an engineer with Alta’s design team, said. “This city has a rich history along this river, and this bridge will be a reflection of that.”

The design team displayed six different concepts for the pedestrian bridge on Tuesday. The concepts were listed in order of estimated cost and complexity of the project’s design.

“Some of these are not iconic structures,” engineer Jake Sherman said. “They are serving the purpose of getting from A to B. The more iconic this bridge gets, the higher the cost will be.”

The concept options presented included:

* Adding a dedicated bicycle lane to the Greene Street and Pitt Street bridges. This option, which would cost between $407,000 to $1.7 million, would be the least-expensive project but would not serve as a direct bicycle or pedestrian path to River Park North.

* A bridge constructed adjacent to the Greene Street bridge. The bridge, which would cost between $3.7 million and $15.3 million, would provide a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian path across the Tar River but would not serve as a direct path to River Park North.

* A high-visibility bridge constructed at the center of the Town Common near the location of the amphitheater. This option, which would cost between $7.2 million and $20.3 million, would provide a direct path to River Park North, but is more expensive and likely would require substantial flood mitigation to construct.

* An elevated gondola system crossing the Tar River between the Town Common and River Park North. The bridge alternative, which would cost between $12 million and $20.9 million, would provide a unique feature for the city but would have high maintenance costs and would require a staff of four people to operate.

“We included the gondola alternative to illustrate what types of things are possible with this project,” Sherman said. “But during our meetings with stakeholders, it seemed to be the consensus that people want a direct connection to River Park North.”

Several people at Tuesday’s open house expressed concerns about a bridge that would lead directly to River Park North.

“The Tar River is a major block to our bikeway system, and this is our chance,” one man said. “If we only have a bridge that connects to River Park North, we blow what might be our only opportunity to make that connection. It would be a shame to build a bridge that doesn’t serve all the people of Greenville.”

Another man expressed concerns about constructing a pathway in a flood-prone area.

“I really love the thought of something iconic across the river,” another man said Tuesday. “But I don’t see how it is possible to build anything leading to River Park North and then out to Mumford Road that wouldn’t be flooded certain times of the year.”

“That’s why we want your thoughts on this project,” Katie Lloyd, a designer with Alta, said. “We want to hear what you want and what your concerns are. Your input is what will guide the design.”

Vreeland said anyone wanting to share suggestions or concerns about the bridge project can contact him at dvreeland@greenvillenc.gov.

“We will take input until the end of the year,” he said. “We will present multiple recommendations to the City Council. ... There is so much potential along the Tar River, and I think this has the potential to spark investment in this area.”

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com or at 252-329-9579. 

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