A greenway-connected Triangle

Oh, the places you'll go on the Triangle's greenways come 2014.

For the past week, we’ve been looking at the current explosive growth of the Raleigh greenway system: $35 million to add about 45 miles of greenway. By 2014, Raleigh should have about 116 miles of greenway, with new, vital links along the Neuse River, Crabtree Creek, Walnut Creek, House Creek and Honeycutt Creek.

The current construction will basically fulfill the city’s 1976 goal of establishing a greenway network, a secondary, pedestrian transportation system making it possible to get around much of Raleigh with minimal exposure to motorized traffic.

While Raleigh is well on its way toward a greenway network worthy of national envy, what about the rest of the Triangle? How are we coming along to fulfill the Circle the Triangle concept first promoted by the Triangle Greenways Council in the 1990s?

There’s promising news on two fronts.

After innumerable delays, a bridge over I-40 in Durham linking 7.7 miles of the American Tobacco Trail north into downtown Durham with trail on the south side of I-40 extending into Chatham and western Wake County appears ready to become reality. In late February, a $7.5 million contract for the bridge and about 4 miles of connecting trail was received and subsequently approved by both Durham and the N.C. Department of Transportation. Construction is scheduled to begin in about a month, the project is expected to be completed in June 2013.

It’s been an exhaustive wait. The 22-mile American Tobacco Trail was conceived in the 1980s, the first stretch of trail opened in the 1990s and its completion has been eagerly anticipated since.

“All I can say is there are so many people asking about this, anticipating its completion that it’s great that it’s finally happening,” Dale McKeel, Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator said Wednesday.

The American Tobacco Trail is considered the spine of the Circle the Triangle goal: It was envisioned that trails in adjoining municipalities would link into the ATT, making it possible to ride a bike from any municipality in the Triangle to any other. The most coveted connection: From downtown Durham to downtown Raleigh. That leads us to the good news on the second front.

In January, the Wake County Commissioners directed that greenways be added to projects considered for funding through a $50 million open space bond approved by voters in 2007. Previously, the money had been targeted to “lands such as forests, meadows, floodplains and stream corridors,” according to the Wake County Web site. “The top priority is to protect and improve water quality by safeguarding lakes, rivers and streams.”

About half of the $50 million remains, $5 million of which is immediately available, according to Sig Hutchinson, who chairs the county’s Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee. Money would be available in matching funds, meaning the municipality would have to put up as much as the county. And there is a cap on the county’s total outlay per project of $500,000 to $750,000.

Greenway fans couldn’t have a better advocate for making sure the commissioners’ mandate is carried out. Hutchinson was a major backer of the Circle the Triangle concept when he served as president of the Triangle Greenway Council and has been instrumental in pushing greenway development throughout the Triangle. He knows how — and where — the money can best be spent.

“I haven’t been so excited about finding real money in a long time,” Hutchinson said Wednesday.

Here are some areas where Hutchinson thinks the money can be most effective.

Cary: White Oak Creek Greenway connection to the American Tobacco Trail. Currently, Cary’s White Oak Creek Greenway stops a couple miles shy of the ATT. It’s a crucial couple of miles because it would make that vital link between downtown Durham and Raleigh. Here’s the problem: the remaining two miles is actually in Apex, and Apex is more interested in completing it’s Beaver Creek Greenway, which will connect downtown Apex with the American Tobacco Trail.

“We’ve jokingly talked about annexing Apex,” says Hutchinson.

And Cary has been above offering its expertise outside its jurisdiction to get a trail done. The 4.5-mile stretch of the ATT in Chatham County was in limbo until Cary stepped in and had its planners address key design issues.

Knightdale: As part of the developing Neuse River Trail, a $630,000 suspension bridge (the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the state, according to Hutchinson) will be built over Mingo Creek. The goal is to build three miles of greenway connecting the Neuse River Trail to Knightdale. “The [open space] money wouldn’t get the greenway all the way to Knightdale, but it’s a good start,” Hutchinson.

Wake Forest: Already under construction where Smith Creek dumps into the Neuse River is what Hutchinson says will be the longest pedestrian bridge in the state. The goal: link the Neuse River Trail with the town of Wake Forest. Again, says Hutchinson, the county contribution wouldn’t be quite enough to make the entire connection, but it’s close.

Hutchinson says Holly Springs and Morrisville have also expressed interest in applying for open space matching funds.

This much appears nearly certain for the Triangle’s greenway system:

  • In about a month, Raleigh’s House Creek Greenway will link the 12-mile Crabtree Creek Trail with the Reedy Creek and Rocky Branch greenways, a total distance of about 9 miles (with connections to the south with the Walnut Creek Trail and to the north with Umstead State Park and Cary’s Black Creek Greenway).
  • By summer 2013, the 22-mile American Tobacco Trail will be completed, linking downtown Durham with western Wake County.
  • By summer 2013, Raleigh’s 28-mile Neuse River Trail will be done, running from Falls Lake dam south to the Wake County line, where it will meet with five more miles in Johnston County, into Clayton.
  • By fall 2013, Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Greenway will be complete from the Farmer’s Market off Lake Wheeler Road east to the Neuse River Trail, a distance of about 12 miles. (From there, it will join with a little under three miles of greenway planned through N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, then connected with existing greenway linking with and running around Lake Johnson.)
  • By early 2014, Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Greenway will be done from near Ebenezer Church Road downstream to the Neuse River Trail, a distance of 16.7 miles.

The Triangle may not be circled with greenway, but within two years much of it will be connected.

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A week(plus) of greenways

Our week(plus) of greenways:

Thursday, April 12: House Creek Greenway to Open June 25 (Read: Memorial Day)
Monday: 90 Second Escape: Raleigh’s Growing Greenway System
Tuesday: Raleigh’s Neuse River Trail: Another 3.5 miles by August, 16.1 miles by November.
Wednesday: Raleigh’s Greenway: 2014 and Beyond.
Today: The big picture: A look at how the Triangle’s greenway network will look in less than two years.

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8 thoughts on “A greenway-connected Triangle”

  1. I think it’s the Crabtree Creek trail that will start at Ebenezer Church.

    Also, funding is on the horizon to fill in the missing links on the White Oak Creek Greenway. $3 million is allocated in the townwide bond issue up for a vote this November to complete all missing segments – the extension to the ATT, plus the missing link between MacArthur and Davis (including the CSX railroad crossing).

    If voters approve the bonds, we’ll see this trail network move one step closer to realization.

    1. That’s great to hear about the $3 million bond issue in Cary. The White Oak/ATT connection, I’m guessing, could happen quickly. Dealing with the railroad is another matter.

  2. Great roundup of the current state of Triangle greenway construction. I was looking at the lower Neuse Greenway (Segment 3) this past weekend. And, they’re really making some great progress.
    And, I’m especially anxious to see construction start on the East Fork Mine Creek and Honeycutt Creek Trails!

  3. Great overview! The only section I didn’t see mentioned this week is the missing link of the Crabtree greenway between Lindsay Drive and Umstead. Any good news on this one?

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