Boulder Construction Company Brings Decade-Long Razorback Regional Greenway Project to Fruition
The recently opened Razorback Regional Greenway in northwest Arkansas has been in development for over a decade. Planners, communities, and residents of the region had long envisioned a regional greenway which would create a safe place for recreation, encourage healthy lifestyles, and provide transportation alternatives for the six major municipalities of northwest Arkansas (Fayetteville, Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Rogers and Bentonville). The completed 37-mile long Greenway accomplishes all of these, and links those six cities with hospitals, commercial centers, the headquarters of the area's major employers, and the University of Arkansas. As a result, the region surrounding the Greenway is experiencing significant economic growth as well.
The Razorback Regional Greenway is a hard surfaced 10- to 12-foot wide trail, designed for both pedestrians and alternative modes of transport. Surface material is primarily concrete, although one section in Springdale is a columned boardwalk over a creek. The Greenway is mostly an off-road trail, utilizing undeveloped land and underutilized urban landscapes; its course roughly parallels the route of Interstate 49.
The Greenway project began in earnest in 2008, when the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission (NWARPC) initiated a long-term planning process which included existing regional trails as a foundation for the overall plan. John McLarty, Assistant Director of the NWARPC, comments, "As we refined that plan, which was primarily on-road or adjacent-to-roads, we noticed the growing popularity of off-road trails. Most of our cities had put in some such trails that actually connected destinations, and usage of those trails was impressive. Ultimately, the plan evolved into one which would utilize both these existing trails and new construction in an expanded design providing greater connectivity between the area's major cities."
The NWARPC worked with other groups to develop a design for a "spine" to connect all the cities. A task force established by the NWARPC held a series of public meetings, which helped to coordinate the communities' efforts.
The Razorback Regional Greenway project received a major boost in 2009, when The Walton Family Foundation - which has been active for many years in trail construction in northwest Arkansas, and wanted to address health/wellness, quality of life, and economic issues in the region - approved funding of up to $15 million for the project (subject to matching funds from the participating cities). The Foundation also funded the hiring of a planning and design team to guide the project.
Throughout 2010, this team held community workshops to help define the Greenway route. In the summer of 2011, Alta/Greenways, headquartered in Portland, Oregon - which was chosen through a national selection process to lead the design and construction of the project - began meeting with planners, trail coordinators, and the mayors of the six cities to promote construction of a connecting trail to run from Lake Fayetteville to the town of Bentonville. Charles "Chuck" Flink, FASLA, Senior Advisor of Alta/Greenways, and the NWARPC's John McLarty coordinated these meetings.
In November of 2010, the project received another major boost with the awarding of a $15 million Federal Transportation Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration. This Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II grant, one of 42 such grants made by the DOT to support investment in transportation infrastructure, was utilized to support the design of the Greenway, assist in right-of-way acquisition, and for construction of the project. Alta/Greenways produced construction documents and right-of-way information, and managed the administration of the construction itself, including hiring the project contractors and coordinating the work of local engineering firms who were also a part of the project.
Trail routes included the use of existing street right-of-ways, sidewalks, utility easements, and flood zone areas. Airspace permits from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department were required for the section of trail under the Highway 412 bypass and Interstate 49 interchange. Over 129 trail easements had to be obtained from private landowners along the route. With all the necessary steps in design, easement acquisition, and the obtaining of permits, actual construction on the Greenway did not begin until May of 2012.
Overcoming Design Challenges
Chuck Flink describes the Razorback Regional Greenway as one of the most unique regional trail projects in the country, and one which presented unique design challenges. "Topography was certainly one of the most significant challenges," he says. "The landscape of northwest Arkansas forced us to route and re-route the trail to minimize the impact on the native environment. We were essentially building a small road, including the installation of many bridges. We had bike and pedestrian bridges with clear spans as long as 180 feet. Some portions of the Greenway are in the flood plain, and the route crossed a number of streams, so we had to put in retaining walls in these areas because of the potential for flash flooding. Plus, our goal was to maintain the natural look of the area wherever possible."
The project underwent a major re-routing when the topography in one planned section proved particularly challenging. As an alternative, the route was moved to run adjacent to a road and some residential areas. Additionally, part of the trail ran under I-49 at a point where a widening project was underway, resulting in an 18-month delay in Greenway construction. Flink points out, however, "These types of projects typically take a decade or more to accomplish, but the Greenway was completed in a very atypical five years."
With the Greenway's necessary application of traditional building techniques and more specialized methods, a wide range of construction machines were used on various sections of the trail, including excavators, rollers, dozers, skid steer loaders, ram hoes, trenchers, and all-terrain cranes for the two dozen bridges along the route.
Boulder Construction Company of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was the primary contractor; the company specializes in civil and commercial projects as well as trails and parks. Company President Ron Troutman says, "One of the big challenges was accessibility to the construction sites - with the topography and the limited easements, it was often tough to get our construction trucks in.
"To me, one of the most spectacular sections of the Greenway - and certainly a challenging one to construct - is in the town of Johnson, where the trail crosses a long-span which is literally suspended from the side of a mountain using micropiles. The scenery is gorgeous."
He adds that another section of particular note is one that runs from Bentonville to Bella Vista, and connects Bentonville to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. "It's a perfect example of the connectivity we achieved, and it gets used by many people every day."
Boulder Construction has just completed a Greenway tunnel under South Walton Boulevard in Bentonville. Troutman explains, "Originally there was a crosswalk, but this particular intersection has become one of the busiest in northwest Arkansas, with well over 30,000 vehicles a day. A crosswalk was not the right way to have to cross five lanes of traffic."
Opening to the Public
A grand opening celebration for the Razorback Regional Greenway was held in May. Among the celebration's full day of events along the trail were a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Springdale and the first official end-to-end Greenway ride, as well as bike demonstrations and other family-oriented activities.
Cultural and economic benefits of the Greenway are already being felt in the region. Flink says, "At the dedication ceremony, I was amazed by the amount of passion and joy about the project. I had people coming up and throwing their arms around me and telling me, "˜You've changed our lives'. New programs have been started to encourage active lifestyles. Children are now able to walk or ride bikes to school - the Bentonville School District was able to reduce the number of school buses, saving $1 million a year.
"The impact is being felt in everything from tourism to real estate values to job creation. Springdale in particular is undergoing a significant revitalization - there are new businesses springing up, and abandoned buildings are being renovated for new uses."
Job creation has already exceeded expectations. "We predicted the Greenway would generate 300 jobs within five years of completion. During the construction phase, those jobs were already occurring, and over 200 new jobs have already been created," says Flink.
"This project cost $38 million, and we estimate a return of $90 million in economic benefits to the communities. Basically, we've created a kind of new Main Street, and a lot of economic opportunity will pop up along this corridor."
McLarty adds, "The Greenway is not just being used for recreation. You see students walking or riding to school, people going to work, people going shopping. I grew up riding my bike to school, but with the existing limited sidewalks, you didn't see a lot of that anymore. Now, however, we have 23 schools connected by the trails.
"It's great to see the diversity of users - students to senior citizens, people of all ages and all backgrounds."
McLarty describes the Razorback Regional Greenway as an "extraordinary partnership". Because of this partnership between cities, planners, state agencies, and area residents, northwest Arkansas now has a world-class trail system that provides greatly increased connectivity, positive economic impact, enhanced recreational opportunities, and an overall improvement in quality of life.