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How Forsyth County plans to use $7m to fix the Greenway
Big Creek Greenway

The Big Creek Greenway gets a lot of use in south Forsyth, though common problems like wooden supports breaking and the nearby creek flooding leave damage to the walkway and silt behind.

But a new plan approved by commissioners could change the aesthetic of the greenway while attempting to address some of those issues.

At a work session, commissioners voted unanimously to approve moving to a concrete deck with steel framing for future replacements of the greenway after hearing a presentation from officials with Heath and Lineback Engineers Inc., a firm hired to study and give recommendations on how to best address issues with the greenway.

“As you’ve already probably walked on it and seen, after 10 or so years of life, there’s some issues with the trail, which range from damage to bridges to a lot of damage on the boardwalk itself,” said John Heath. “You have a lot of boardwalk out there. It’s a timber boardwalk, and it is obviously deteriorating and it’s causing hardship for county maintenance crews to keep up with chasing problems. As time goes on, those problems will only get worse.”

As part of their motion, commissioners approved $7 million for the work, which is to start at McFarland Parkway and go northward as funding allows, and will keep the greenway at 12-feet-wide rather than a recommendation to widen to 16 feet.

The work is expected to be done in phases over three years and cost between $22.8 million and $38 million. About 258,000 square feet of existing boardwalk needs to be replaced.

Heath and Lineback Engineers Inc., offered four options for how to best deal with replacements: a timber deck and framing; a timber deck with steel framing; a concrete deck with steel framing; and a concrete deck with concrete framing.

Heath recommended the concrete deck with steel framing would have a high design life and can be colored for aesthetics but would come with higher initial costs, changes the look of the greenway and requires equipment to replace damages.

Greenway Chart
The condition of the greenway from McFarland Parkway to Bethelview Road was broken down into segments and given a ranking from 1 (needs replacement) to 5 (looks new) based on structure deterioration, erosion, siltation, excess mildew or fungi, slab settlement and structural damages.

The replacements would consist of a precast concrete deck, a timber/concrete guard rail, steel beams, precast concrete bent, or frame, atop galvanized steel helical piles to anchor the structure. The design life for the project is 50 years, longer than the timber options and equal to the all concrete options, and would cost $90-$100 per square foot.

“There’s no unknowns in that design, and there’s no materials that, Day 1, are going to start deteriorating, so from a maintenance standpoint, this is the ideal situation,” Heath said.

The condition of the greenway from McFarland Parkway to Bethelview Road was broken down into segments and given a ranking from 1 (needs replacement) to 5 (looks new) based on structure deterioration, erosion, siltation, excess mildew or fungi, slab settlement and structural damages.

“Phase 1 from McFarland to Union Hill is clearly where an initial effort should be made,” Heath said. “Phase 2 is better, but it’s younger, so we can assume that in a couple of years Phase 2 will look as [worn] as Phase 1.”

Commissioners expressed some frustrations with the greenway, which opened in 2009.

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent said there had previously been issues with elevation and ordering equipment with previous plans, and District 4’s Cindy Jones Mills said previous boards of commissioners had been led “over and over again down the wrong path to make decisions based on ‘experts.’”

“It is just infuriating that we have just kept throwing money more and more and more at this problem and expecting it to get a different answer,” Mills said.

Another facet of the project is financing. Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Department Director Jim Pryor said the county had about $5 million budgeted for renovations along with funding left over after bids for Phase 5 came in lower than expected.