Alternative Riverwalk Greenway routes presented to avoid construction complications
The Riverwalk Greenway may be going in a new direction.
Alternative routes were presented to the Board of Aldermen during its Feb. 8 meeting. Issues with creating a “no-rise” scenario, where construction of the $6 million federally funded project would not lead to an increased level of floodwater, have “frozen” the project.
Greenways Commission co-chair Fred Grogan outlined a route featuring Scotland Road, Center Avenue and Ridgeway Avenue and an additional route that would utilize existing infrastructure with downtown sidewalks leading west onto U.S. 70.
Moving forward with an on-road plan, the town would be required to add multi-use paths, like bike lanes, and additional traffic signals.
Grogan said the initial plan, which featured a connection of the Flat Creek Greenway through the current Riverwalk Loop and under N.C. 9 to The Oaks Trail, may not be possible to complete.
“The riverwalk project being an off-road, multi-use path was the vision, and I think now, what we’re looking at, may not be that experience from a user perspective that we were hoping,” Grogan said. “It would be an on-road combination of either shared roads … and sidewalks.”
Town manager Josh Harrold said the town would have three options to work around the no-rise scenario during its Oct. 29 meeting.
The town could purchase the four properties affected by potential flooding, with an estimated tax value of $1 million, move forward with an alternative on-road route or wait out for an unknown third option.
Town officials compiled 16 scenarios to simulate a no-rise scenario in October, with none being successful. A rise in floodwater would result in the town being liable for worsening flood conditions regardless of how small the increase is.
Resolving the challenges related to the greenway’s construction is a “signature project opportunity,” Grogan said. “It would be imperceivable to have a three-inch rise in a ten-year storm.”
Should the town move forward with purchasing the affected properties, Grogan says flooding would still occur.
“We could still get (the N.C. 9 path) to work, but should we?” he said.
A “ten-year storm” refers to a 10% chance of a heavy flooding event each year, with that event predicted to occur at least once every 10 years.
Mayor Larry Harris said he is unsure of what other options would be available in the future, though a no-rise scenario is unlikely.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to get there,” Harris said.
The Greenways Commission has not received any of the presented alternatives, Grogan said, and a meeting with the N.C. Department of Transportation will be held to “see what they have to offer.” A combination of efforts between the commission and DOT may lead to additional alternatives, he added.
Constructing the initial route has created a “silver lining,” Grogan said, as the town has moved forward with two bridges and two tunnels. An estimated $1.5 million would be saved if the town did not continue with the route.
Harrold added that moving forward with original planning would involve a push to buy the affected properties. The town would then need to rely on the property owner’s willingness to sell and additional funding that may not be available until 2026-27.
Grogan urged the town to move forward with taking out the portion of the project affected by the no-rise scenario.
“We’ve got to start showing some progress,” he said.
Alderman Pam King expressed her frustration for the project’s delay.
“I have to say I’m enormously disappointed,” King said. “If it’s going to be the centerpiece for the Fonta Flora Trail and also the Hellbender Trail, people don’t drive to a new community to hike or bike so that they can walk down a sidewalk in the middle of Black Mountain. It’s a real disappointment.”
King said she understood that complications with the project are unavoidable and emphasized the project’s longevity.
“It’s not what we’ve been dreaming of for quite some time,” King said.
Challenges related to the no-rise scenario and complying with federal regulations is why the project has taken so long.
Because it’s a federally funded project, “the rules are a little more stringent, you’ve got to go through some more red tape,” Harrold said. “I think that is part of the reason that it has taken as long as has to get where we are.”
Former Mayor Mike Sobol noted during his 2020 alderman campaign that he hoped the town would complete the greenway “sooner rather than later.” He says he remembers discussing the project’s inception in the ‘90s.
“I think 25 years is long enough to be working on a greenway,” Sobol said. “I think it’s time to get it done.”