After nearly two decades of planning, a greenway project to link neighborhoods south of UNC Charlotte to the area’s commercial district is moving ahead on its final stretch.
Commissioners on Tuesday will vote on whether to award a $2.7 million contract to Eagle Wood Construction Inc., a Lincoln County-based firm, to finish the second phase of the Toby Creek Greenway.
Plans call for the remaining 1.3-mile extension to connect to the existing Toby Creek Greenway running through UNC Charlotte’s campus, giving residents in Autumnwood and other neighborhoods near Rocky River Road West a shortcut to the university and shopping centers.
The first phase opened in 2013. The second piece saw delays as project officials waited for approvals from the N.C. Department of Transportation and received construction bids that came in over budget. Officials expected to finish the greenway in 2014.
The holdup has left some residents frustrated.
“It’s been a long, long, long, long process, and it’s tiring,” said John Neilson, president of the Autumnwood Community Association. “I’m glad they’re starting, and the sooner the better.”
Commissioners Tuesday will also decide on spending more than $760,000 on the project, with the N.C. DOT contributing the rest in a $2.5 million grant that will help cover construction, design and inspection costs. Initially, the county will pay the full cost of the project, but once the greenway is done, the state will reimburse the $2.5 million, said Karen Weston-Chien with the county’s asset and facility management division.
The county had expected state money to cover the project entirely, but needed county money to cover the gap after bids came in high, she said.
If commissioners authorize the money, the county will ask state and federal transportation officials to review cost estimates and bid documents, and approve the project for building.
Weston-Chien said officials expect approval by January and figure the rest of the greenway will take a year to construct, pushing its debut to 2017.
For greenway supporters in the area, it’s a long time coming.
“People are going to actually have to see some stuff happening to believe it because it’s been so long,” said Commissioner George Dunlap, whose district includes the greenway.
Work on the second phase stalled when the county had to react to personnel changes with an outside firm consulting on the project, Weston-Chien said. Officials also had to perform extensive environmental planning, and waited 13 months for the state to approve a slew of plans, fees and drawings before soliciting for bids.
Approval for construction came in January and bidding started the next month.
People are going to actually have to see some stuff happening to believe it because it’s been so long.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner George Dunlap
Neilson has been waiting 17 years for signs of progress. He and neighbors in Autumnwood first saw project schematics in 1998. Ten years later, he helped the county score five of six land purchases needed to create the trail extension.
He said he would have liked to have seen construction start last spring, when the project’s first bids came in over budget by nearly $1 million.
In my view, we are not a priority. The priority is farther downstream.
John Neilson, president of the Autumnwood Community Association
Officials changed some of the project to bring it closer to budget before Eagle Wood Construction submitted the lowest bid in July.
Weston-Chien said greenway projects are challenging and complex, and require a host of approvals to meet state standards.
That does little to sway Neilson, who feels that parks designed years after the greenway was announced have gotten more attention.
“Now that we’re sort of at the end of it, there’s no use complaining about it except that it takes an extraordinary amount of time,” Neilson said. “In my view, we are not a priority. The priority is farther downstream.”
Correspondent Don Boekelheide contributed to this report