Alpharetta Bicyclist

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — For all its popularity with residents, the Big Creek Greenway remains unfinished in Alpharetta.

But there are signs the city is mounting a final push to complete its portion of the trail that was first conceived 25 years ago.

Its last link — a 2.5-mile stretch north up to the Forsyth County line — has been in the planning stages for more than six years. The route has faced property battles and funding challenges, and even if it does get built, it may end abruptly, because Forsyth County hasn’t built its connecting extension to meet it.

Both sides seem to be working toward that point on the border, but it may take another couple of years.

Late last year, Alpharetta dropped embattled plans to run the trail near the Golf Club of Georgia and opted for another route that will run along Windward Parkway. That change added another $119,000 to the price tag, pushing the completion cost to around $10.4 million, twice what the city has available. 

The Big Creek Greenway is a linear park featuring a 12-foot wide path along Big Creek. It runs about eight miles from Roswell north to Alpharetta to a point near Webb Bridge Road. Forsyth County’s portion runs almost 10 miles, from Kelly Mill Road in the north down to McFarland Parkway, about a mile shy of the county line. 

Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said plans are to complete the project in the next couple of years, but ultimately, the timing will depend on the Georgia DOT’s plan to widen McGinnis Ferry Road. That’s where the two trails would meet, he said.

Pryor said the county has already worked out a land swap deal with the developers of Halcyon, who have agreed to extend the trail another third of a mile south to their property. That leaves just a little more than a half mile to go, he said.

Initial plans for that stretch include adding a multi-purpose path along Ronald Reagan Boulevard south to McGinnis Ferry.

But Pryor said a lot of the final stages will depend on when the state completes its work on McGinnis Ferry, and that isn’t set to start until next spring.

Alpharetta isn’t sitting still either. 

At a recent public workshop, Alpharetta Finance Director Tom Harris outlined to members of the City Council possible funding sources to help pay for the extension.

Right now, the project has funding for about half its estimated cost.

Local voters earmarked $5.1 million for the Greenway extension as part of a $52 million bond referendum in 2016, leaving the project now about $5.2 million short of funding for completion.

Harris presented a list of nine bond fund accounts from which the city can draw to make up the difference. The city can tap about $3.2 million by using money earmarked for other projects, like sidewalks and park land acquisition, because these projects have either been completed as advertised or, like the proposed performing arts center, have been deemed unfeasible, he said.

Another $1 million could be made available through impact fees, and just shy of a million could be available within the allocations for the transportation sales tax.

Other sources of funding, Harris said, could come from the city’s annual capital projects fund and from the sale of condos at the new Milton Avenue parking deck.

Mayor Jim Gilvin said he doesn’t want transportation sales tax dollars diverted because the city is already being asked to contribute more money to widening McGinnis Ferry Road.

“It’s certainly part of the discussion… but I don’t know if we’d want to move it from transportation to the Greenway, and then have to move something else back to transportation,” Gilvin said.

Councilman Jason Binder said he’s grateful to see an end in sight for the project.

“I think when we did the bond, this one was probably on top of everyone’s list,” he said. 

Gilvin, who was on the City Council when the bond passed in 2016, said the extension has been a struggle.

“We made this commitment to the residents four years ago now…and it’s been a struggle,” he said. “When you don’t own the property and you’re having to go to these multiple, different partners and redraw routes based on who’s willing to allow participation and things like that, it’s been a challenge.”

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