Now that the River Levee Trail is officially open, it might be instructive to remember how we got here.
Check out this April, 2013 feature on the trail and it’s fantastic bridges.
Bridging the Future
Dramatic Canal bridges top list of new, exciting changes for Augusta’s most identifiable resource
April 18, 2013–The view along Riverwatch Parkway is about to change dramatically with the addition of a small but impressive stretch of the Augusta Canal Trail.
“It’s going to be very popular, I feel,” says Dayton Sherrouse, executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority.
Construction has already begun for the $1.5 million section of the trail, called the River Levee Trail, which will cross the tailraces of Sibley and King Mills.
“The current trail comes off the existing trail by Lake Olmsted right by the bulkhead gates and it loops around underneath Riverwatch Parkway by Raes Creek and it stops at Sibley Mill,” Sherrouse says. “What this will do is bring it across the tailrace at Sibley and in between going over to the King Mill tailrace and across it and then back up to the top of the levee.”
From there, he says, the trail will connect into downtown Augusta.
“There’s a short section in there we will want to improve with a paved trail, but at least it will be workable once we get back on top of the levee,” he says.
Those things don’t happen overnight, however, and for now the hardhat area only includes the bridges and the land in between, which according to Tom Dunaway, senior project manager for W.R. Toole Engineers, looks deceptively small on paper.
“From a length standpoint, this section is really short,” he says. “It’s only about 1,500 feet. The meat and potatoes of the project are the two bridge crossings. Those are the big cost components.”
Dunaway, who is also designing the newest section of Columbia County’s Euchee Creek Greenway Trail, says one of the two bridges is a prefabricated steel bridge similar to the one planned to cross Euchee Creek. It will be installed in two pieces before the end of the month, but to do that, the contractors are constructing a temporary bridge to help them build the final bridge.
“They’re actually building a bridge to build a bridge,” Dunaway says.
Getting to the Sibley tailrace, while time consuming because of the thick growth, has been a pretty straight forward affair.
“We generally knew the alignment,” he says. “We did make some changes to help save as many of the larger growth trees, but where they’re working now across the Sibley Mill tailrace – that was generally set based on previous phases.”
The 1,500 feet between the Sibley Mill tailrace and the King Mill tailrace, though, required a field layout similar to what he did near Euchee Creek, where he walked off the proposed course, marking individual trees to save.
Once completed, both Dunaway and Sherrouse expect this section to be a destination point.
“The bridge over King Mill tailrace will be a cable-stayed bridge, which is almost a miniature suspension bridge,” Dunaway says. “That will be a really unique crossing there.”
It will be one of the only cable-stayed bridges in the area.
“Those are going to be real highlights for the city of Augusta and the canal trail,” he says. “It’s truly a quality of life issue. Those bridges will draw a lot of folks down.”
The money for this phase of the project comes from a grant administered by the Department of Transportation. The Canal Authority can be a direct recipient of the money because it’s a state created authority, but that doesn’t mean Sherrouse can simply take the money and start construction. Before he can do anything, he needs approvals from the Corps of Engineers, the Historic Preservation Division, the Department of Natural Resources and various city departments.
“There are a lot of hoops you’ve got to jump through,” Sherrouse says, chuckling.
Some of those hoops involve the use of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds, which are allocated by the city. Sherrouse uses those funds to match federal and state grants for canal improvement projects.
“The federal money – the most you can get is 80 percent,” he says. “Then, you have to match at least 20 percent, and we historically overmatch. They like to see that.”
Starting out, the federal grant for this phase of the overall trail project was $825,000, but Sherrouse says he’s in the process of getting the paperwork done to receive another $150,000, which would push the federal portion to $975,000.
“I got a call a few weeks ago from (former commissioner) Don Grantham, who serves on the DOT board representing our area,” Sherrouse says. “He said there was another $150,000 available, so we’re in the process of adding it to this project.”
Sherrouse went before the Commission Tuesday to finalize the SPLOST agreement, in which the county agrees to appropriate the sum of $4.17 million to the Authority for the Augusta Canal Improvement Project.
The initial trigger of $925,000 has been raised and will be immediately allocated to the Canal Authority. The balance of the money will be dispersed in three additional installments, with the Canal Authority receiving $625,000 more before the end of the year, $725,000 before the end of 2014 and roughly $1.9 million before the end of 2015.
Because of the requirements of SPLOST funds, the money can not be used for maintenance and operations, and thanks to these voter approved funds, Sherrouse is looking at looking at several additional projects.
At a Wednesday announcement, Sherrouse unveiled several new changes to the Canal, including a renaming of the Interpretive Center to the Augusta Canal Discovery Center.
Also in the works, a Confederate Powder Works interpretive plaza and a comprehensive new signage plan for the entire canal.
Project Manager Russell Foster finds a series of mountain bike trails proposed to be constructed between the canal and the river particularly exciting.
“We had a trail development management plan done for us, and they’re recommending eight to 10 miles of mountain bike/nature trails,” Foster says. “That’s going to make us a destination if we have sort of a mini FATS in an urban setting. Another project is an upgraded entrance near Lake Olmsted. “We’re working on another project right now on the other side of the canal at the back end of Lake Olmsted by where the Humane Society is,” he says. “We’re going to add some additional parking there, because there’s really no place to park.”
There is also a new gateway at Riverlook Drive that will provide public access at the end of the Riverlook Drive cul-de-sac. This $165,000 project will replace the Eisenhower Park access point. It includes a parking area for approximately 43 vehicles and it will look similar to the Goodrich Street/Levee Road entrance at the east side of the pumping station.
Also, Sherrouse plans for another section of trail heading inland along the third level of the canal running by the Judicial Center.
“We’ve got that under design now and we’re hoping to get that out for bid later this summer,” he says. “We’ve already got a grant approved for it, so we’re just getting the design done on it. Hopefully, we can get that out for bid toward the end of the summer.”
In addition to the new trail sections, Sherrouse also says existing sections of trail will receive improvements.
“Basically, from the pumping station all the way back up to the Headgates in Columbia County will stay natural,” he says. “It’s been a historic trail there, and folks don’t want it paved. But the in-town portions of it will be gradually paved, even the ones that are there now.”
The section currently under construction will be built out of concrete rather than asphalt because of the durability factor and the fact that, due to its remoteness, getting repair equipment back in there promises to be difficult.
“It’s more expensive on the front end to do it in concrete, but you can cut down on your long term maintenance,” Sherrouse says.
Eventually, the trail will be a uniting factor for several communities.
“The nice thing about this – we’re kind of the middle, but you can actually then go across Thirteenth Street and get to the Greenway System in North Augusta, and up in Columbia County, they’re extending the trail out Evans to Locks Road toward Evans Town Center.”