Buncombe County and the Town of Woodfin received a major boost for greenway construction with the approval of a $4 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration on Thursday, May 25, 2017. The funding comes through the Federal Highway Administration’s Surface Transportation Block Grant and is designated to move two greenway segments in the Town of Woodfin to construction.
The project efforts include a greenway segment running parallel to the French Broad River and Riverside Drive between Broadway Avenue and Elk Mountain Road and a segment parallel to the Craggy Mountain Line and Beaverdam Creek from Elk Mountain Road and Woodfin Avenue (with a connection to Merrimon Avenue). The estimated length of the two sections is approximately five miles total.
The Town of Woodfin and Buncombe County have been working to advance the project over the past several years. The feasibility of the Riverside Drive segment of greenway was examined in 2010 and the segments were incorporated into Buncombe County’s 2012 Greenways Masterplan. The project previously received a 2015 Federal Highway Administration award of $528,000 that funded the engineering and design efforts that are currently underway. The Town of Woodfin also designated funding from the $4.5 million bond referendum approved by voters in November 2016 toward the project.
The Riverside Drive greenway segment is a critical link in Buncombe County’s efforts to work aside municipalities to create a connected network of greenways. The segment will eventually connect to the City of Asheville’s River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project ultimately creating a continuous segment of greenway spanning from the Town of Woodfin to Hominy Creek Park. Buncombe County is already working to build momentum for a push further south along the French Broad River and has completed feasibility assessments for greenways that would connect Hominy Creek Park to Lake Julian Park (located on Long Shoals Road).
Implementation of the Buncombe County Greenways Masterplan is housed within the County’s Recreation Services Department and is seen as both an opportunity to encourage healthy, active living and to create transportation alternatives that can increase residents’ quality of life while potentially decreasing their cost of living. The County continues to refine its greenway implementation strategy with a commitment to minimize the cost to taxpayers through leveraged funds. Josh O’Conner says of the strategy, “We pursue grants that have a high return on investment. We’ve been ambitious in trying to leverage the funding budgeted to us to return $4 in external funding for every $1 spent.”
The strategy has proven successful for the County as steady momentum builds for greenways. In 2015, Buncombe County was awarded $568,000 in grants related to greenway design, followed by $1.36 million in 2016, and the current $4 million award for the Woodfin projects. The timeline between the award of a grant and the availability of funding can often create a perception of lacking progress. For example, design funding for the Riverside Drive segment within the Town of Woodfin is now being utilized but was part of the funds awarded to the County in 2015. For Buncombe County greenway implementation has required patience and careful strategy, an approach that is beginning to pay off.
The County has worked through the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization to examine funding opportunities and has looked to support efforts within municipalities in order to create a system focused on destinations and a connected network. Utilizing a collaborative approach is critical as the County looks to conserve financial resources and capture potential efficiencies. The County’s relationship with the North Carolina Department of Transportation is also critical to the greenway implementation process; the two agencies have worked to understand where greenway efforts could be paired with traffic improvements to reduce costs and minimize conflicting plans.
Greenways require a substantial community investment and careful coordination. “As we begin to assemble funding for greenways that shows that we are moving forward, we hope to see new partners come to the table. Creating the system envisioned in the masterplan needs a range of public and private investment and we are eager to see those conversations continue to evolve.”
Additional information on the County’s greenway efforts and the Buncombe County Greenways Masterplan can be found at buncombegreenways.org. Information on Woodfin’s greenways and the progress of bond projects can be found at woodfin-nc.gov.