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Greenway expansion costs raise questions for council members

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People run on the South Tar River Greenway on June 15, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A discussion about a long-planned extension of the South Tar River Greenway left many Greenville City Council members with a case of sticker shock.

Currently, the portion of greenway stretches from East Fifth Street near Cemetery Road and Green Springs Park to the Town Common, but the plans developed over the last decade call for extending the trail another 1.6 miles west from the common, eventually reaching the Greenville VA Healthcare Center.

An update on the project and expected costs was presented to council during its pre-meeting workshop on Monday by Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan. The work will be split into two phases, with the first portion connecting the existing trail up the river to Nash Street. Included in the design for the expansion is bridgework, trail preparation, paving and a trail head near Fairfax Avenue, which will accommodate parking.

The total cost of the first .8 mile section is $3,875,542, but is being funded mostly through grants. Mulligan said 80 percent of most such projects are funded by state and federal grants, with 20 percent local matching funds. He said in this case, the city was able to negotiate greater grant funding, reducing the local match to about 15 percent, totaling $586,902.

Some council members remained skeptical about the total cost, asking Mulligan how the project could be so expensive, especially compared to the recently completed Green Mill Run Greenway, which was longer and cost nearly half as much. Mulligan said the expense is due partly to the bridgework and trail head, but mostly related to challenges building near the river. He said reducing the local share to 15 percent saved the city about $200,000.

“We’re getting a better deal on this,” he said, prompting members of the council to laugh incredulously.

“That’s a good way of putting it,” Mayor P.J. Connelly said during the workshop. “I don’t know about that.”

The pre-agenda workshops are held prior to the council’s first monthly meeting. The meetings are for informational purposes and the board cannot take action. The meetings are not televised but are open to the public.

Funding for the city’s $586,902 portion of the project would be supplied in part by $226,902 already allocated to the project. City staff is recommending that the council allocate the remaining $360,000 from funds earmarked for the creation of a greenway to River Park North.

The $360,000 is part $750,000 raised for the River Park greenway by the city’s 2015 Transportation Bond. Mulligan said federal funding for the project likely is still a decade away, opening it up for use on the Tar River expansion.

The expansion’s design calls for concrete and metal bridgework, which is more expensive but should dramatically increase its lifespan compared to the existing boardwalks on the east side of the trail made from treated wood. He said the material would also reduce maintenance costs during its lifespan.

“The greenway is typically somewhat difficult to get to by nature of where we design and typically build them, so maintenance of those can be a challenge,” he said. “A concrete boardwalk is going to give you 40 plus years of life, whereas a wooden boardwalk is going to give you 10-15. “

According to a breakdown of cost provided to council, the bridgework will cost about $325,000. The Fairfax Avenue trail head will cost $152,000. The cost of the greenway exempting these features is estimated at $2,214,629.

At-Large Councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer suggested the city look into sponsors for areas of the greenway to help reduce costs. Recreation and Parks Director Gary Fenton said the department had not considered offering sponsorships on the greenways, but did have sponsored assets such as the Toyota Greenville Amphitheater on Town Common.

Mulligan noted that the second half of the expansion would cost less because the design and acquisition cost for the entire length, totaling $764,821, are built into the first half of the expansion’s cost.

Connelly asked if Mulligan knew of an average cost per mile for projects like the expansion, but Mulligan said he was unsure.

District 3 Councilman Will Bell, whose district encompasses most of the existing Tar River greenway, asked Mulligan about the current maintenance budget for greenways, specifically about repairs to a large pothole in the trail. The hole is located just north of the wooden bridge on the east side of the trail, near Cemetery Road. It was created by flooding during Hurricane Matthew.

“I just think we need to fix that,” he said. “I’m a big fan of taking care of what you got before you invest in something else.”

According to Mulligan, the department is working to finalize a contract to repair the damage. Weather permitting, repairs should be completed sometime this summer.

According to Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin, the city’s annual budget, which was approved Thursday, allocated $50,000 to maintenance for the trails. He said as the trails expand, the city will need to look at increasing the annual allotment.

Smith-Rowe LLC has submitted the winning bid to complete the work, which the council will be asked to approve along with the funding during its June 25 meeting.

Smith-Rowe would have one year to complete the work if approved. Mulligan said its possible the company would be granted a winter shutdown, moving the completion date to the end of Summer 2019.

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579.

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