After almost 20 years, officials expect to start work on the Torrence Creek Tributary #2 greenway in Huntersville by April.
This portion of trail, about a mile long, will branch off the existing Torrence Creek greenway, run northeast along the namesake creek, cross under Gilead Road near Ranson Road and end at Rosewood Meadow Lane.
Mecklenburg County Senior Project Manager Jay Higginbotham said the total cost of the project is roughly $918,000. The trail has received funding from a mix of sources: $400,000 in grant funding from N.C. Department of Transportation; $200,000 from the Town of Huntersville and $318,000 from Mecklenburg County.
Higginbotham said the new phase of greenway will begin about four-tenths of a mile east of Bradford Hill Lane, and physical construction is expected to take nine months or less to complete.
Higginbotham said the new portion of trail won’t have designated parking but there is potential to add parking in the future
What took so long?
Huntersville Transportation Manager Bill Coxe said getting the trail to this point has been an involved process that started with Mecklenburg County’s countywide greenway master plan prior to 1990.
“It’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 years on this. This is what you truly call long-term planning and seizing the opportunity when you get it,” Coxe said.
At that time, Coxe said, there was practically no development along the north side of Gilead Road west of Interstate 77. “It was much less developed than today, the hospital wasn’t even proposed. We just had an idea we’d like to have a trail along these streams,” he said of Torrence Creek, the # 2 tributary and McDowell Creek.
As subdivisions were developed over the next decade, the county was able to gain flood plains from developers because the greenway master plan was already in place. “Because the land was essentially useless to the developer, they were happy to give it to us.”
When Coxe joined the Town of Huntersville in 1998, he said, an important part in the process was the realignment of Gilead Road and the state laws in place regarding creeks and tributaries. Coxe said they were essentially able to strike a deal with DOT, knowing there wouldn’t be another chance to get a trail under Gilead Road.
“Because it was a public road project to realign the road, and because it’s going across a tributary on a master plan for a greenway, state policy is that they are required to accommodate the greenway,” Coxe said.
Around 2002, Huntersville put in $120,000 and the county matched $50,000 to pay the $170,000 that was “the difference between a regular culvert and the one we have today that we can get a trail through,” Coxe said.
The development of Torrence Creek Elementary School was also important, he noted, because Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the property developer and planners were able to agree the Torrence Creek Tributary #2 greenway would be beneficial for all.
“We said, ‘Look, here’s where this trail is going to go, it could link neighborhoods where students live to the school,’ and everyone agreed it was a good thing,” he said.
After an unsuccessful bid to get federal grant money for the trail in 2001, Coxe said, the project got $200,000 from a state bicycle-pedestrian program in 2004. With a town match of $200,000, they had $400,000 in place to move forward.
Coxe said it was at this point that Huntersville deferred to county greenway experience. “(The county) said they’d be willing to take over trail maintenance once it was built. We said, ‘You’ve got the expertise, here’s the money, take over building, permitting’ and they said ‘Great, no problem.’”
In the time it took to design and plan the trail, Coxe said, the project cost rose from $400,000 to more than $900,000.
“Things cost more in 2006-2007 than they did in 2004,” Coxe said. “The cost of construction was going up rapidly in that time … The whole world was going ‘boom’ during that period.”
The county re-applied for more federal funding in 2007 and was able to get an additional $200,000, bringing the funding level to $600,000. Rather than asking Huntersville to find additional funds, Coxe said, the county managed the $318,000 difference.
Even though the funds were in place to move forward, Coxe said, regulatory reviews, studies and permitting approval – especially in regard to crossing under Gilead Road – proved time-consuming.
Once the plan went to the state for approval, “Oops, their staff got slashed,” Coxe said. “The plans languished in Raleigh in 2007, then in 2008, the county staff got slashed because of the recession,” he said, noting the limited staff left “can’t do the same amount of work with half or a quarter of the people.”
But Coxe said state approval finally came through in late February and the county had already bid the project, selected a contractor, received commission authorization to use the funding and gotten permits in place.
“They’re literally waiting for things to dry out enough to get the contractor down there to work,” he said.
“Now, if we don’t have too rainy a summer and too severe a winter…Merry Christmas, we can have Santa riding his bicycle (on the completed trail).”
Coxe said while the process was a long one, it was made possible by long-range vision. “Because you had that (greenway master plan), we were able to seize those opportunities that came along. The developments, road realignment and school help build towards that goal,” Coxe said. “It just takes a heck of a long time.”
Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter @htrenda
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