Is the Farmville Riverwalk project too expensive?

Published 7:29 am Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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Is the planned Farmville Riverwalk project getting too expensive to continue? That’s what the town council has to decide in the weeks to come. 

First proposed in 2019, Farmville received a $1.074 million grant for Phase I in 2021. To be clear, that’s the only portion that the town is committed to, a trail for pedestrians and bikers that creates a walkable path from High Bridge Trail down to Riverside Park near Main Street. Construction on that section is set to begin in summer 2026 and finish by 2028. In order to get the grant, Farmville had to agree to contribute a 20% match of $214,934. 

But now as the Virginia Department of Transportation moves forward on the project, their officials have flagged both rising costs and some additional work that wasn’t factored in for the original estimates.  

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“They’ve moved into the design phase of this project,” Farmville Town Manager Scott Davis told town council members, during their Wednesday, Feb.7 work session. “And as they’ve gotten into it, there’s been some need for changes to the cost estimates. VDOT (officials) reached out before it went any further, so the town could make a decision.” 

Part of that increase comes from a need for additional analysis, to make the path usable as it is in the floodplain. There’s some other concerns that have been flagged as well. 

“Due to the historic nature of the area and the waterway, there are some environmental and archeological studies that need to be conducted,” Davis said. “There are some additional utility conflicts that were not known or accounted for.” 

Basically, some of the utility lines, connecting things like power and internet, might have to be relocated. And then there is the work needed to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. 

Construction work costs

“ADA (work) is expensive,” Davis told the council. “The construction costs due to inflation for the ADA accessible switchback ramp and handrail, the construction costs just for this ramp are estimated to be just over $680,000.” 

With everything added together, Phase One of the project, the walking path (plus ramp and other ADA accessible material), would be $408,603 more than the grant and the town’s allotted contribution. That’s where council needs to make a decision. 

Option One: Farmville pays that $408,603 out of pocket. Option Two: the town applies for an additional grant to cover that money. But that extra grant would also require another 20% match, so the town would then be on the hook for an additional $81,721. And if Farmville moves forward and doesn’t get the grant, for whatever reason, then the town would be on the hook for the full $408,603. 

And then there’s Option Three. That would involve cutting the town’s losses, backing out now before any of the construction work is started. 

Farmville Riverwalk phases add up

Another concern for town council members is that Phase One is by far the cheapest of the three phases involved. Phase II would be a raised boardwalk area, going over some wetlands and ending at Building 8 of Greenfront Furniture. That would cost $3.568 million based on today’s estimates and go into construction in 2030. The third phase would go along the river, behind Charley’s Waterfront, behind the tasting room and eventually connect with the High Bridge Trail. That could end up being more than $3 million as well, meaning by the end, this project could be a $8 million to $9 million walkway. As Davis pointed out, the town staff will certainly apply for grants to cover the costs in Phase Two and Phase Three, but there are no guarantees of being approved. 

Farmville Mayor Brian Vincent also pointed out that even though the path runs behind buildings, it wouldn’t connect physically with any of them. 

“It’s not like a traditional riverwalk where you have access to (buildings),” Vincent said. “You’re coming behind Charlie’s, you’re coming behind Greenfront. I don’t even think it has access to those entities, it’s just a pathway. Basically what we’re considering is a fairly expensive trail.”  

And so that’s what council members have to decide before this week’s meeting. Is it worth spending that much money, even if part of it comes from grants, for a trail?