RiverWalk’s 22-mile span to be completed next year, city planner says

Riverwalk nears completion

City Planning Director Rick Jones discusses the impact of completing the Chattahoochee Riverwalk.
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City Planning Director Rick Jones discusses the impact of completing the Chattahoochee Riverwalk.

Twenty years after the Chattahoochee RiverWalk was born as a combined sewer repair project, it is poised to finally be completed, city Planning Director Rick Jones said.

Using $10 million in Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds, the final two gaps in the 22-mile linear park will be spanned over the next year.

Columbus wouldn’t be the city is it today, Jones said, nor would it realize the potential it can realize without the final two gaps in the trail being spanned.

“The RiverWalk was really a catalyst for everything that is going on in Columbus right now, particularly in the Uptown area,” Jones said, while speaking to the Coalition for Sound Growth today. “Without the RiverWalk, I don’t think we’d have the community that we have today. Just imagine what it would be like without it down there.”

Both of the gaps are in the First Avenue corridor between TSYS and Bibb City, and Jones said the effect on that stretch of land could be profound. He compared the RiverWalk to a highway linking two cities, but with broken spots where travelers are forced off the highway to go places they don’t want to go. Once the gaps are bridged, traffic naturally increases, bringing more people through the area, he said.

“As with any roadway or highway, it also tends to promote economic development,” Jones said. “Those two sections, particularly the one at the North Highlands Dam, are isolated. Folks just don’t go that way because they’re forced to get off the RiverWalk and can feel isolated.”

Jones said it could be a catalyst for jumpstarting the city’s planned City Village project to revitalize the First Avenue corridor in that area.

“I think that once the RiverWalk is completed you’re going to see a lot more activity in that area,” Jones said.

The southern-most gap is the section that runs by the old City Mills complex, which is currently under renovation. It forces users to leave the RiverWalk and travel on First Avenue for a short while before going back down to it. The span will run the RiverWalk through the space between the old mill buildings and reconnect to the path a short way to the north. The cost of that will be between $1.2 and $1.5 million, Jones said.

The next gap is created by the presence of the North Highlands Dam, which will require users to surmount about 30 feet of elevation in a short span. To avoid an impossibly steep path, architects and engineers designed switchbacks, like mountain roads, which allow for a less steep path up and over. The much more elaborate project will cost about $8.5 million, Jones said.

Funding for the projects will come from the TSPLOST approved by voters in 2012, Jones said.

Contractors have been awarded bids on both projects, and Jones said he expects the entire RiverWalk, from just below the Lake Oliver Marina to Fort Benning, to be completed by this time next year.