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Sandy Springs adopts trail system longer than BeltLine, seeks to hasten construction

Sandy Springs Trail System, Woodlands near the future Marsh Creek segment of the A day hiker strolls along a path through woodlands near the future Marsh Creek Trail segment of the Sandy Springs Trail System. Credit: Eric Bern

By David Pendered

Sandy Springs has adopted a master plan for a trail system that sets the city on course to build a trail network nearly 10 miles longer than the Atlanta BeltLine. The first 7-mile phase is to be built within a decade – sooner if money can be provided.

Sandy Springs Trail System, Woodlands near the future Marsh Creek segment of the

A day hiker strolls along a path through woodlands near the future Marsh Creek Trail segment of the Sandy Springs Trail System. Credit: Eric Bern

The Sandy Springs City Council voted unanimously Oct. 15 to adopt the Sandy Springs Trail Master Plan. The entire system is envisioned to span 31.4 miles. The BeltLine is envisioned as a 22-mile loop of transit and trails, according to its master plan.

Current funding for a trail system includes $750,000 the council provided in the city’s annual budget for the fiscal year that started July 1. Some or all of this money could be allocated to the first model project, a mile-long segment to be built along Marsh Creek.

Sandy Springs Councilmember Andy Bauman was among those who offered glowing remarks of a plan developed with a host of partners – city residents and staff, PATH Foundation, Tucker-based Kaizen Collaborative, and Sandy Springs Conservancy – which provided $25,000 to support the planning effort.

Bauman also is among the city’s elected officials who said they would like to see their city’s trail system be developed sooner rather than later.

“I certainly hope we can accelerate it and do to it as fast as possible,” Bauman said. “I’m realistic, but if we set a faster goal I hope we can accomplish it more quickly. … Let’s see if we can find a way to finance this and fund it.”

Bauman noted that the city’s next shot at a source of significant funding will occur after March 31, 2022. That’s the expiration date of the 0.75-percent sales tax approved in Fulton County’s 2016 referendum for a special purpose local option sales tax, for the purpose of transportation improvements, according to the enabling legislation.

Sandy Springs’ share of the transportation sales tax is expected to be about $133 million over the 5-year life of the transportation sales tax, according to projections in 2016. The sum represents 18.22 percent of the total sum of $655 million projected to be raised countywide through the sales tax. The percentage represents the proportion of Sandy Springs residents, compared to the rest of the county excluding Atlanta, where voters agreed to levy a separate transportation sales tax.

Sandy Springs voters indicated in that referendum a willingness to fund transit through a sales tax.

Sandy Springs Trail Master Plan

Sandy Springs’ Trail Master Plan envisions 31.4 miles of multi-use trail and what it calls neighborhood connectivity opportunities. The plan is to connect neighborhoods with schools, parks, existing trails, commercial centers and job hubs. Credit: PATH Foundation/Kaizen Collaborative

Transit accounts for $57 million funding of transit-related projects when the sum includes $16 million set-aside for design improvements and land acquisition along Hammond Drive. The project is to include a four-lane road with sidewalks, bicycle lanes and transit lanes, according to the project list printed at the end of the enabling legislation.

The Sandy Springs council has been working toward the adoption of a master trail plan since February. That’s when the council adopted Recreation and Cultural Enhancement as a priority area, which included the completion of a Trail Master Plan, according to a background paper that accompanied the legislation adopted Oct. 15. The paper observes:

  • “The plan identifies 31.4 miles of greenway trails, side paths, and neighborhood greenways, connecting to 12 schools, 15 parks and greenspaces, and providing connections to neighboring jurisdictions. If approved, the Master Plan will serve as a blue print to guide future capital and programming priorities. The 10-year implementation plan includes seven (7) miles of trails with a preliminary engineering and construction budget of $33,360,000.“

This rendering of the planned Marsh Creek Greenway shows the elevated pathways that enable the trail to cross difficult terrain. Credit: PATH Foundation/Kaizen Collaborative

The first phase the paper references is the 7-mile Marsh Creek Greenway. The greenway is described in the master plan as a 5-mile loop running parallel to Marsh Creek and crossing the Chattahoochee River at Morgan Falls.

The master plan portrays the Marsh Creek Greenway as a “model mile” to gauge public support from the overall trail-building effort. The projected $33.4 million needed for this inaugural phase of the trail is to come from annual earmarks of about $5 million, according to the plan. The source, evidently, is the city’s general fund.

The cost estimate for the trail system’s design and construction is estimated at $122 million, in 2019 dollars, for design and construction, according to the master plan. The plan states that it does not provide an estimate for the cost of land acquisition, but does provide this vision for the potential route – which is similar to the way PATH400 was threaded through neighborhoods along existing rights-of-way rather than through major land acquisitions:

  • “Like most cities who are faced with retrofitting trails into a developed environment, there are an abundance of places where trails need to go and
    few vacant corridors to connect them together. Land left vacant is vacant for a reason: Much of it is too steep or too wet for traditional development. Although topography and proximity to water adds to the cost of construction, they do not preclude assemblage to create linear parks with trails.
  • Many of the greenways proposed in this plan rely on the acquisition of corridors through the privately owned greenspace buffers that exist between large apartment and condominium projects all over the City. The plan also relies on use of the added stream buffer Sandy Springs requires above and beyond the 25 foot buffer required by the state.”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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