How Greenville SC officials will pay for the Cleveland Connector trail
- Proposals to amuse the Paper Clip Link Trail sparked debate at Greenville City Council.
- New pedestrian bridges are due for completion in November, with full extension later this year.
- The Richland Way tunnel near Cleveland Park is to be closed to vehicular traffic.
Greenville city officials want to use money from their greenways and trails budget to cover a $774,081 shortfall to pay for the Cleveland Connector, a trail that will connect Cleveland Park to the new Prisma Health extension. County’s Swamp Rabbit Trail.
The council originally considered using taxpayers’ money from the city’s general budget to make up the difference, but the greenways and trails budget emerged as the winning alternative in a first vote this week. Funding requires two votes for final approval.
The funding sparked a debate among council members over the “stealing of the general fund to fund a tourism project”, in the words of council member Dorothy Dowe, pointing to ongoing strains over city resources which some say board members, are too dispersed.
The city’s $123 million general budget funds ratepayer services like the police department, fire department and public works, while $15.5 million in hospitality tax goes to capital improvement projects and tourism-related initiatives. The trails and greenways budget for fiscal year 2023, which comes largely from hospitality taxes, is $1 million, according to the city’s website.
The Cleveland Connector, also known as the “Paperclip,” is a vital part of the Swamp Rabbit Trail extension project taking shape along Laurens Road. This 4.5 mile extension will stretch from Cleveland Park to Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, and is expected to attract economic investment to surrounding neighborhoods.
As Greenville County builds the extension, the city is paying $6.4 million to build two pedestrian bridges to connect the trail, using one bridge on Laurens Road near Washington Street and another on Haywood Road near its end at Laurens Road.
The bridges are expected to be completed in November while the extension is expected to be completed in December.
The trombone is to be a 0.3 mile multi-use trail that connects the existing Cleveland Park Trail to the Laurens Road Bridge, beginning at a level crossing at Ebaugh Avenue, followed by a series of switchbacks adjacent to the street Traxler.
The trail will climb approximately 50 feet of grade change to another crossing on Richland Way, then follow Richland Creek and pass under East Washington Street through the Richland Way tunnel. It will end at the existing Swamp Rabbit Trail after crossing Lakehurst Street, according to the city’s offer.
As part of this project, the Richland Way tunnel will be closed to vehicular traffic and Richland Way will lead to a new parking lot adjacent to the “Run-In” store on East Washington Street.
While the city originally budgeted $1.3 million for the trail, the only bid submitted for the project was $2.2 million, according to city records. The city’s timeline for the project and rising procurement costs in the area were to blame for the singular and expensive bid, staff told city council Monday.
City staff reduced the final cost to $1.9 million by cutting asphalt and traffic control measures, leaving a deficit of $774,081 that the city council debated how to cover.
While the city council typically turns to hospitality taxes to cover similar shortfalls, the city has maximized its tourist dollars on other projects, like the Unity Park Honor Tower and the Swamp Rabbit Trail Tunnel. under Verdae Boulevard.
And with fears of a recession, bond payments coming due and future project commitments, city budget director Matt Efird was not comfortable using tourism funds to make up the difference, he told council members on Monday.
“My responsibility to all of you for the financial situation of the city says that I cannot tell you for sure that this is a safe investment that we can make at this time,” Efird said.
Some council members have recommended restarting the project or delaying it altogether, arguing that pedestrians could take an alternate route down Richland Way to Ebaugh Avenue – a steep hill that would not comply with federal accessibility laws .
They also considered using money from the general fund to pay for the project and then repay the budget with hospitality taxes, a move that would set “a very dangerous precedent,” Dowe said.
“We shouldn’t be taking money from the general fund to fund things that can be funded by (welcome taxes),” Dowe said.
Council members ultimately voted to use greenways and trails money with the intention of consolidating the budget once again next fiscal year.
The decision could delay the design and construction of another pedestrian bridge over the Reedy River that would help pedestrians safely access the Richland Way tunnel and extension near Cleveland Park, a consequence that prompted the member of Council Wil Brasington to vote against changing the ordinance to use greenway funds. .
“I didn’t like the suggestion that it would push – your estimate, your suggestion – a critically important pedestrian safety project tied to this whole game plan further into the future, until the end of the day. exercise 24,” Brasington said.
Monday night’s discussion reflected ongoing tensions within City Council over the city’s priorities — and how to pay for them.
As Greenville continues to grow, the city has been quick to keep pace with increased demand and pressure on infrastructure. Whenever authorities sign a new development agreement, city workers are responsible for maintaining additional streetscapes and surrounding infrastructure. And a large portion of the city’s hospitality tax revenue is budgeted for Unity Park — about $48 million in total.
Some council members argued that the city was compromising its limited resources to support the sprawling project.
“As a council, we’re going to have to decide how much we compromise our resources to support Unity Park,” Dowe previously told The Greenville News.
Once City Council approves funds for the trombone, contractor LJ Inc. will begin work this month. Final completion requirements are Feb. 8, 2023, according to the city’s presentation Monday evening.
Macon Atkinson is the city watch reporter for The Greenville News. She is fueled by long runs and strong coffee. Follow her on Twitter @maconatkinson.