An ambitious project to build a 161 mile bike and pedestrian trail along the Georgia coast got a boost last week.
The city commission of Brunswick, two hours to the south, endorsed the proposed Coastal Georgia Greenway, itself part of a larger plan that would connect Maine to Key West with a 3000 mile trail. Savannah City Council and the Chatham County Commission have already endorsed the plan.
In its final state, the Greenway would begin on River Street and go all the way down the coast to the Florida border, providing a contiguous paved trail for bicyclists, hikers and birdwatchers, through urban and rural environments.
"The Coastal Georgia Greenway project is one of the important first steps in creating low impact eco-tourism on our coast," says J. Howard Morrison, Jr., owner of Savannah's Lebanon Plantation and an active voice on local quality-of-life issues and smart growth.
In endorsing the Greenway, Brunswick Mayor Bryan Thompson also focused on the economic impact.
"Preliminary analysis indicates that the trail will pay for itself within three years, with a projected six percent increase in valuation in each county it traverses every year thereafter. It will help provide safe and accessible routes for pedestrians, bikes, scooters and golf carts, will enable mobility-challenged individuals, tie together currently isolated segments of local communities, and enhance the value of residential developments."
However, organizers admit that progress is still pretty slow. Currently only two short segments of the Coastal Georgia Greenway actually exist: a short stretch along the drainage canal parallel with the Truman Parkway from Daffin Park to about 52nd Street, and a three-mile jaunt in Richmond Hill behind J.F. Gregory Park, incorporating an old rice paddy dike.
In addition, Greenway board members recently convinced the Chatham County Commission to commit the millon dollars the set aside for an additional five miles from 52nd Street to Lake Mayer, with construction on that leg set to begin this fall.
Greenway board member Drew Wade explains the funding challenges and the organization's plans to address them:
"What we'd initially sought to do was to build the entire thing altogether. But in discussing it both with the Georgia Department of Transportation, some of our partners and local government, it's become clear that what we're going to be able to shoot for reasonably with this is to go for two big sections as a Phase I," says Wade.
One part of Phase I would be in Savannah, from River Street down to Richmond Hill. The other would be connect the mainland embarkation point for the Sapelo Ferry with Jekyll Island.
"The goal is to have contiguous offroad facilities for all 161 miles," Wade says.
Currently the Greenway is writing a grant proposal to take advantage of the so-called TIGER grant -- Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery -- part of President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.ka. the stimulus package.
But Wade is quick to point out that jockeying for the stimulus funding is "very competitive," saying he doesn't want to give the impression that the stimulus money is the only way the project will be funded.
"There are quite a few projects in Georgia applying, but as far as we know we're the only bicycle/pedestrian project."
Regardless of what happens with the stimulus money, Wade says the process of writing the grant has been valuable.
"The process has been good both in developing the grant, but also taking the 15 year history of this project and putting it back in front of local governments for whom the memory of it is not always right there, as one elected official changes to the next."