‘Tis the season for road building and repair, as anyone can see in local projects ranging from the Greensboro Urban Loop to the widening of Horse Pen Creek Road and the city’s annual street resurfacing program that debuts next week.
But increasingly throughout the community, sidewalk construction also is playing a major role in the city’s springtime repertoire.
In fact, Greensboro transportation officials have $14 million in projects underway focused almost exclusively on building new sidewalks, from Holts Chapel Road in east Greensboro to Hobbs Road in the city’s northwest sector.
More loom on the horizon, with three major projects tentatively set to go out for bids next month, and another six up for grabs by year’s end. The mix includes projects focused on sidewalks alone, on greenway extensions and on road improvements that also boast significant stretches of new sidewalk.
City transportation planners expect that by year’s end, more than 32 miles of new sidewalk and greenway will be in some phase of construction, whether nearing completion or freshly under contract, said Tyler Meyer, planning manager for the city Department of Transportation.
“We estimate that the city has 24.6 miles of independent sidewalk construction either underway or expected to go to contract in 2019,” Meyer said, referring to sidewalk-only projects.
Throw in two, new phases of the Downtown Greenway already under contract for a total of $11.1 million, and the lengths of pedestrian-friendly construction extends to 26.5 miles, Meyer said.
He noted that another 5.9 miles of sidewalk will be at some stage of construction in 2019 as part of a larger street project, such as the widening of Horse Pen Creek Road for several miles from just north of New Garden Road to Battleground Avenue.
It all adds up to an overall gain of about 5 percent in a local system of sidewalks, greenways and unpaved trails that city officials said last year encompassed roughly 635 miles.
The boom in sidewalk construction is welcome proof the city is taking concrete action on an issue residents almost universally say they care about, said City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter.
“I can honestly say that every single community meeting I go to — and I go to a lot — somebody will bring it up: ‘Can we have a sidewalk at X spot?’ ” said Abuzuaiter, who is chairwoman of the Greensboro area’s major transportation planning agency, the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“As long as I’ve been on council, we’ve been hearing from people about sidewalks. People really want them,” she said. “And it feels like we’ve been playing catch-up for a while.
“Now all these things are falling into place. Now everything is coming together. The funds are secured and we can move forward.”
Because of its smooth flowing road network, the city scores consistently high rankings from such arbiters of happy motoring as the international driving app Waze.
Meyer said city officials hope eventually to foster that same level of connectivity and fluidity for the person who would rather travel on foot or walk to a bus stop.
The 2019 projects are part of a detailed plan that over the next five years aims to bring new sidewalks to more than 50 additional streets throughout the community, ranging from neighborhood roads to more heavily traveled arteries such as Benjamin Parkway, Summit and Wendover avenues, and Alamance Church and Vandalia roads.
City officials give priority to major streets, those along bus routes and those with gaps in already existing sidewalk.
Lengthy sections of new sidewalk pending along such major roads as West Friendly Avenue and English Street are among those on the not-too-distant horizon, Meyer said.
“They have the potential to really be transformative,” he said.
Meyer said the city has an ample supply ready to go in both sidewalk projects and road improvements that include major sidewalk components. Some of those plans took longer to develop and design than initially envisioned, some came together right on schedule and others jelled sooner than anticipated.
“It just so happens that a lot of these projects are ready now. They are just coming out of the pipeline,” he said.
The Holts Chapel project ranks as a heavyweight among sidewalk initiatives already underway, $7 million worth of new sidewalks and other roadwork on 1-mile-long Holts Chapel from East Market Street to Franklin Boulevard. The project then continues on an intersecting road, Lowdermilk Street.
Uncle Sam is covering most of the cost for that project in a move that was the brainchild of the MPO that Abuzuaiter leads, the regional transportation group that includes elected and appointed officials from state, county, city and neighboring town governments.
The MPO was able to secure a direct apportionment from the Federal Surface Transportation Program, one of several ways in which the costs for sidewalk projects can be met.
Other projects’ costs are covered with a significant influx of municipal bond money or other local sources of transportation funding.
That more localized approach is paying for just less than a mile of new sidewalk on Hobbs Road, from Holden Road to Starmount Farms Drive on one side, and from Northline Avenue to Hobbs Landing Court on the other.
In that case, homeowners along the route petitioned the city to build the sidewalk, Meyer said. Once those who owned at least 51 percent of property along the way had petitioned, city staff designed the new pavement and put it on their to-do list, he said.
The excavating and concrete work on Hobbs Road will cost just more than $486,000. Contractor Yates Construction has 90 days to complete the work, starting from the time construction began several weeks ago.
Some of the projects have been waiting on the sidelines for years. Money for some of the Hobbs work was included in a citywide bond referendum voters approved in 2008.
Also included in that package was $1.5 million for another project just now getting underway, several miles of new sidewalk along English Street in east Greensboro between Phillips Avenue and East Florida Street.
But when the City Council agreed to a final contract for that project with Yates Construction on Tuesday, a decade of rising costs and an improved economy took their toll: The current price tag for the English Street project is $3.35 million.
Without waiting for resident petitions, city planners and engineers determine when and where to build sidewalks along such major streets as Holden Road, Cone Boulevard and Friendly Avenue.
Planners have talked for years about the need to close wide gaps in sidewalks along such streets, which can put walkers and joggers at risk on the uneven terrain beside roads where cars and trucks travel at relatively high speeds.
In one such case, contractor Armen Construction recently finished the sidewalk along two-thirds of a mile of Cone Boulevard, near Page High School, at a cost of $596,400.
Officials wanted to improve safety for students walking to and from the school, so they carved that project out of a larger initiative that ultimately aims to line Cone Boulevard with sidewalks all the way from Battleground Avenue to U.S. 29.
Two projects scheduled to go out for contractor bidding this year — one next month, the other in November — would result in sidewalks on Holden Road on a 2.2-mile section from between Madison Avenue and Meadowview Road.
Other parts of Holden Road still will have some sections without sidewalks, but the forthcoming additions are a step in the right direction, said city transportation planner Craig McKinney.
“The majority of it is going to be sidewalk on both sides of the road,” he said.