WILMINGTON — Walkers out with dogs and baby strollers on the Park Avenue multi-use path this week could go twice their usual distance as the trail recently doubled in size. The second piece of the multi-use path, stretching from Audubon Boulevard to South Kerr Avenue, opened to the community Tuesday.
Its completion marks the addition of another half mile to the City of Wilmington’s expanding trail system.
“We now have over 20 miles of trails throughout our community and growing every single day,” Mayor Bill Saffo said.
The first portion of the Park Avenue multi-use trail opened in winter 2018. It stretches from Audubon Boulevard to Empie Park, the only point where the 11-mile River to Sea Bikeway and 15-mile Gary Shell Cross-City Trail intersect.
Work on the second stage commenced in the summer of 2021. The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the region’s transportation planning agency, provided $400,000 for the project through the North Carolina Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Block Grant.
The addition to the trail picks up where the first phase left off at Audubon Boulevard and winds through the Audubon neighborhood. It features crosswalks at the intersections of Audubon Boulevard, and 42nd, 43rd and 44th streets. The path extends to South Kerr Avenue, where it links to sidewalks.
Fourteen years ago, city trails were nonexistent, Saffo said. Today multiple projects are underway to pave multi-use paths, upgrades to sidewalks and improve streetscapes. Between three progressing transportation bond projects, the public could see another 6.4 miles within the next several years.
Mayor Saffo said the late Gary Shell, once the city’s director of parks and recreation, approached city officials over a decade ago about establishing a trail system throughout Wilmington. Designs began within city hall, and projects were shovel-ready when the recession hit and federal stimulus funding became available. The city accepted $4 million in federal funds for the Cross City Trail, ultimately a $9-million project once complete, brought to life with the boost of state money and donations from the private sector.
By 2010, Wilmington boasted 7.26 miles of multi-purpose trail per 100,000 population, according to master plans.
“After that, we had a lot of people coming to the city and to the city council and saying, ‘We’d like to see trails in our neighborhood or near our community,’” Saffo recalled. “So that spurred the debate about putting a transportation bond onto the ballot.”
The $44-million transportation bond passed in 2014 with 65% of the votes. Of it, $20 million was allocated for bicycle and pedestrian projects.
The 4.3-mile Greenville Loop Trail, one of the projects backed by the bond, is now on the fast track.
“We want to get it on the ground as quickly as possible,” Saffo said. “That’s one portion of the trail system that our citizens overwhelmingly said we need to get in place because of traffic concerns, because of the school location at Bradley Creek and the number of kids that are walking.”
The design has progressed sufficiently to dive into the right-of-way acquisition process, according to city spokesperson Jennifer Dandron.
In the fall, construction is expected to start on the south end, from College Road up to the intersection of Greenville Loop Trail and Holly Tree Road. Work on the north and central portions is slated to begin in late 2022.
Mayor Saffo said the surroundings of the future Greenville Loop Trail site pose challenges, such as environmental concerns and the purchasing of private property. It can sometimes be complicated or prolong the process when landowners are hesitant to sell.
One-year construction on another transportation project this spring: the 1.4-mile Masonboro Loop Road Trail. It will run from Navaho Trail to Pine Grove and connects neighborhoods to Parsley Elementary School.
The 0.7-mile Kerr Ave Trail, a third bond venture, is in the design and coordination stage with NCDOT and Duke Energy. The pathway will connect to a signalized crosswalk from College Road to the UNCW campus, where the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail is accessible. Construction is expected to start this spring.
As Wilmington explores the idea of a quarter-cent sales tax for Wave Transit, officials are considering whether a sum of the estimated $144-plus million over 10 years could go toward more multi-use paths. The prospect of such undertakings may be enough for residents who dismiss the bus system to support the tax on the election ballot, officials presume.
However, using a portion of the profits for projects outside of public transportation, like trails, would require an ask of the General Assembly to pass special legislation.
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