Trail, greenway and park infrastructure projects stimulate economic activity and help residents lead healthier lives

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Undoubtedly, park trails, greenways and other infrastructure further stimulate construction and economic development. An example of the strong return on investment of trails and similar outdoor recreational assets: the Chuck Huckelberry Loop puts the great outdoors within reach for thousands of Tucson, Arizona residents. It is a system of shared-use paved trails and short stretches of buffered bike paths connecting Cañada del Oro, Rillito, Santa Cruz, and Pantano River parks to the Julian Wash and Harrison Road greenways.

Construction of the loop began in the 1980s as a flood control project along the Rillito River. Today, approximately 137 miles of paved, car-free trails and bike paths have been completed, with plans to build additional trails.

Besides healthy recreation for residents, The Loop has also generated many economic benefits. A 2013 economic impact study showed The Loop provides a major return on investment for residents of Pima County and Tucson. For every dollar invested in The Loop, Pima County realizes an economic benefit of $9.40. This includes immediate returns such as jobs created and outdoor recreation expenditures by residents and visitors, as well as long-term benefits such as healthcare cost savings. By one estimate, the construction of Loop created 9.6 jobs for every million dollars spent on construction.

The Loop has also helped attract new businesses to the area. Sharon Bronson, chairwoman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, explains, “When Caterpillar was relocating its mining division here, The Loop was an important recruiting tool.” In fact, Caterpillar’s new office building is adjacent to The Loop on the Santa Cruz River, just west of downtown Tucson. Caterpillar will create more than 500 jobs in the new structure in its first five years.

“Similarly, Raytheon, the region’s largest private employer, is urging its employees to use The Loop to get to work,” Bronson says. Raytheon is located just south of the Julian Wash Greenway portion of The Loop.

The loop is the result of the Pima County Regional Flood Control District (RFCD) stabilizing the banks of the Rillito River and other rivers with a soil-cement mix and building the shared-use road above it. above the banks. A record-breaking monsoon season in 2021 demonstrated that improved banks protected private property from flood waters from a 50-year-old storm.

There’s no question that spending on trails, park infrastructure, and operations helps keep the US economy buoyant. The shared impact of capital spending and operations by local parks and recreation agencies in the United States produced more than $166 billion in economic activity in 2017 (latest data available). The estimate comes from the latest Economic Impact Survey from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), a nonprofit organization that works to advance public parks, recreation and conservation.

The Fairfax County, Va. Park Authority and its contractor have constructed the next segment of the Pohick Stream Valley Trail, scheduled for completion in late 2021. For this new segment, crews are constructing approximately 2,200 linear feet of 8 foot-wide paved track and a new bridge. The project will connect the existing trail network in Burke Station Park to Hillside Road near Old Keene Mill Road. This connection will provide increased access to recreational facilities and the Virginia Railway Express Rolling Road station. The new trail segment will serve both pedestrians and cyclists and create approximately two miles of fully accessible continuous creek valley trail from Burke Lake Road to Hillside Road for people of all abilities.

Trail projects such as the Pohick Stream Valley Trail Expansion improve the pedestrian experience and provide residents with the ability to use alternative transportation, said Fairfax President and CEO Victor Hoskins. County Economic Development Authority. He says residents benefit in many ways from projects like these: “I’ve been involved in creating bridges, walkways, fountains, ice rinks and public spaces, and they’ve all improved the experience of the community. They become invaluable in how the community experiences the place and how it perceives itself.

Hoskins says the recreational facilities are very beneficial to the county and its community. “In many cases, these recreation and transportation projects become more important than the buildings themselves because they have such an impact on the pedestrian experience and how the community sees itself. If they’re not done right, you have a problem.

Parks, recreation facilities and greenways are essential parts of a healthy, livable community, says Gail E. Lalla, client manager at T&M Associates. The Middletown, New Jersey-based company provides construction management and environmental engineering services nationwide.

Some of the trail and greenway projects T&M has worked on include the Passaic County Highlands Rail Trail (Wanaque, NJ, still in the design phase); the Morris Canal Greenway (Jersey City, NJ, still in the design phase) and the award-winning Schuylkill River West Trail (Upper Merion Township, Pennsylvania, completed 2015).

Parks, recreation facilities and greenways are essential parts of a healthy, livable community, says Lalla US city and county. She highlights the many sustainable communities across the United States that are investing in additional public spaces, including bike lanes, trails, and converting rails to trails. “These spaces have now become a new version of ‘living rooms’ due to communities’ need for open spaces that allow for social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you live in a multi-family complex or a dense urban center, having outdoor spaces as an outlet in these stressful times has become crucial for many.

Lalla says recreation and transportation infrastructure projects, such as greenways, have significant community-wide benefits. These include boosting tourism, attracting businesses, appealing to various demographic groups such as retirees, lowering taxes and boosting equipment sales. These types of projects simultaneously provide a socio-economic benefit by alleviating the stressors of unemployment. “Many cities are seeing the renewal of old industrial sites into green spaces, and these improvements are catalyzing infill development and the reuse of outdated or underutilized buildings and spaces. It was great to see landscape architects, planners and community leaders evaluating these economic benefits from the perspective of equity and sustainability,” says Lalla.

The return on investment (ROI) of the infrastructure project can vary depending on the unique characteristics of the city, Lalla explains. “Green infrastructure projects, such as those that transform brownfield issues, reduce pollution runoff, and restore previous ecological habitats, typically generate higher returns on investment. Projects that help retain and treat stormwater and mitigate flooding have seen an increase over the past 10 to 15 years, in part to build resilience.

Congress recently approved the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” which offers more good news for trail and greenway development. The legislation authorizes nearly 70% more federal dollars for the on-site alternative transportation program (which contains the recreational trails program). Funding under the new legislation increases from $850 million to an average of $1.44 billion per year. The newly approved legislation also gives the green light to the Connecting America’s Active Transportation System Act. Access this Rails-to-Trails Conservancy analysis or this US city and county post for details.

Michael Keating is editor for US city and county. Contact him at [email protected]

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