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Dec. 31 map deadline for 36-mile ‘greenway’

by Bill Bowden | September 3, 2011 at 4:34 a.m.

Officials in Springdale, Lowell and Rogers are trying to determine exactly where a new paved bicycle and pedestrian trail will go.

They have until Dec. 31 to figure it out and get right of way agreements from property owners or run the risk of losing $10 million of a $15 million federal grant for the project.

“It’s achievable but it’s an ambitious schedule,” said John McLarty, assistant director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, which is serving as administrator for the project. “We think we can do it. It’s atrail, not an interstate.”

The 36-mile Razorback Regional Greenway will stretch from south Fayetteville to north Bentonville, and much of the trail in those two cities is already done. The $38 million project to link the completed trails with new ones across the three cities is expected to be done by the end of 2013.

The general corridor of the Razorback Greenway has been determined, but the path could vary by 100 feet or so in either direction. Planners hope it will serve as a “spine” for a network of paved “off-road” trails throughout Northwest Arkansas.

The Razorback Greenway will be one of the longest, interconnected urban land corridors in the United States, said Charles Flink, president of Alta/Greenways of Portland, Ore., which is the construction consultant for the project.

“Greenways” are strips of undeveloped land that are set aside for recreational use or environmental protection. They can follow natural boundaries such as creeks or manmade paths such as abandoned railroad beds and utility corridors. Like the Razorback Greenway, most such corridors include trails.

“The Razorback Green-way links together 23 public schools, three major hospitals, the University of Arkansas, the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the downtowns of Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville, major shopping destinations, restaurants, the headquarters of Wal-Mart and J.B. Hunt, and numerous residential communities,” Flink said via e-mail. “The greenway is destined to become the new ‘main street’ of Northwest Arkansas. That in itself is unique among all greenway projects in the nation.”

LINKING OLD AND NEW

Bentonville and Fayetteville have been building paved trails for about a decade, long before the concept of the Razorback Greenway came up a couple of years ago. The bulk of work yet to be done is in a 16-mile section from New Hope Road in south Rogers to Lake Fayetteville, north of that city. Alta/Greenways isserving as construction administrator for that section specifically.

Out of more than 1,000 applications, the Razorback Greenway was one of 42 capital projects to receive a $15 million grant last year through an economic stimulus program known as TIGER II. The acronym stands for Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery, and the funding comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant program was established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Razorback Greenway funding survived Congressional spending cuts in the spring.

Money from the $15 million grant will be used to build trails in the 16-mile section that includes Springdale, Lowell and Rogers. About $5 million of that amount already has been allocated for engineering, right of way agreements and construction of two short segments in Rogers, McLarty said.

The rest of the grant money, $10 million, will be allocated after design and right of way agreements are completed. The design should be finished around the middle of September, then specific property owners will be contacted about easements, he said.

The Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville is matching the grant with another $15 million that will be used to construct the Razorback Greenway apart from the 16-mile midsection, including about 2 miles in Johnson, 1.5 miles in Fayetteville and a half mile in Bentonville. Flink said his company is also being paid in part with money from the Walton Family Foundation.

Another $8 million will be raised for amenities such as trail heads and lighting, said McLarty.

Fayetteville and Bentonville each have about 5 miles of completed trails that will serve as part of the Razorback Greenway. About two years ago, the regional planning commission came up with the idea of tying those trails together with a trail through Springdale, Lowell and Rogers, said McLarty.

Flink said the Razorback Greenway is a unique publicprivate partnership with regional cooperation among six cities and two counties.

Lowell Mayor Eldon Long, who owns three bicycles, believes his city is benefiting from the regional cooperation.

“When our sister cities improve their parks or in this case a regional trailway, it’s beneficial to everyone, and we get to participate in those things,” he said.

BIKE LANES INCLUDED

About 450 letters were sent to property owners in Springdale, Lowell and Rogers to inform them of publicmeetings that were held in early August. Those notified in Rogers own land within a 100-yard-wide corridor where the trail may go, said Jennifer Bonner, an engineering technician with the Rogers Planning and Transportation Department. Fewer landowners actually will be affected by the trail and its final path, she said.

If one landowner objects, the city can move along to the next one, Bonner said.

“One way or the other, these trails will be built,” she said.

Patsy Christie, Springdale’s planning and community development director, said there was some opposition from landowners concerned about easements, but many of them have yet to realize that the trail may increase their property value.

McLarty said an effort will be made to put the trail along property lines instead of through the middle of lots so easements won’t disrupt any construction plans the landowners might have.

Most of the Razorback Greenway will be 12 feet wide, but in a few places it will be 10 feet wide.

In Springdale, Lowell and Rogers, parts of the “greenway” may include bike lanes painted onto city streets but no separate trail. Christie said that’s the case in Springdale, where the trail will “very likely” be a bike lane along short segments of both Powell Street and Silent Grove Road.

Along one section of Puppy Creek Road in Lowell, people on the “greenway” will share the road with vehicles, and there isn’t room for bike lanes, said Flink.

“When navigating urban areas, we at times have to make decisions where sharing the roadway is the only plausible solution,” he said.

Christie thinks the “greenway” will provide an economic boost to downtown Springdale.

“It’s exciting for Springdale,” she said. “We consider Springdale to be the heart of the greenway.”

‘JUST NEED MONEY’

A building known as Shiloh Square on Springdale’s Emma Avenue is being renovated to serve as part of the bike path. It has a roof but no front and back walls, so the Razorback Greenway can pass through it. Christie said Shiloh Square will serve as a farmer’s market with eateries and a stage for performances.

From there, northwest toward Lowell, the trail will hug the banks of Spring Creek, then go underneath a bridge on U.S. 71 Business north of the AQ Chicken House restaurant, she said. The trail also will go under a railroad track in downtown Springdale, again using an existing bridge.

Christie said the Razorback Greenway is just a start. She hopes other trails will branch off of it, going all over Springdale. Those trails could connect to the city’s Jones Center for Families and Arvest Ballpark, she said.

Dan Cross of Johnson, treasurer of the Clear Creek Trails Association, said that organization planned to build a bike path from Johnson north to Arvest Ballpark, but those plans shifted with the design of the Razorback Greenway. Now the group is working on the trail that will connect Johnson to Lake Fayetteville. Right of way agreements have already been secured for Johnson’s 2-mile section of the Razorback Greenway and another 1-mile section the group oversees in north Fayetteville, he said.

“We’re ready to push dirt,” he said. “We just need money.”

Matt Mihalevich, trails coordinator for the city of Fayetteville, said a half-mile section from Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Sixth Street) to Walker Park has yet to be built, along with the section on the north side of town that the Clear Creek Trails Association is working on.

Shelli Kerr, planning services manager in Bentonville, said only a three-quarter mile section near Lake Bella Vista has yet to be completed in Bentonville.

Northwest Arkansas, Pages 9 on 09/03/2011

Print Headline: Dec. 31 map deadline for 36-mile ‘greenway’

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