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At $8.5M, cost projection for first leg of Ecusta Trail is 'good news'

Architectural renderings of the Ecusta Trail design.

Building the first six miles of the Ecusta Trail in Henderson County could cost $8.5 million, according to estimates presented Wednesday during a Rail-Trail Advisory Committee meeting.

Uncertainty remains in the project, but county staff members told the committee that 30 percent of the design has been completed for the entire first six miles of the project. County Engineer Marcus Jones said based on that design “we’re looking at a construction cost estimate, and this is good news, of $8.5” million.
The area involved in the estimate includes the six miles from Kanuga to Battle Creek off U.S. 64 in Horse Shoe. Once complete, the entire trail will run 19 miles from Hendersonville to Brevard.
Aside from the considerable staff time devoted to the trail, the county has yet to appropriate county property tax revenue to the trail's design or construction. Funding, so far, has come from state and federal transportation grants and the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority. Two other groups, Conserving Carolina and Friends of the Ecusta Trail, are raising money to meet the required local match for the grants.
Jones said the cost estimate was done with uncertainty in mind and the actual cost may change as the project gets underway.
“It’s been a scary thing for us concerning the current construction environment,” he said.
Chuck McGrady, the committee’s chairman, urged Jones to provide groups that are helping raise funds for the project details on the cost estimate.
“If you can help us in some fashion with how the money gets spent,” he said.
Jones said that he would try to make details available.
Christopher Todd, the county’s business and community development director, said in an interview after the meeting that the estimate for the first six miles was done with a 20 percent contingency added to the actual cost estimate with the hope that the contingency money will not ultimately be needed.
“We always hope for a lower number,” he said. “The goal is that contingency number will shrink.”
Todd said the remaining five or six miles of the trail in Henderson County beyond the first six included in the $8.5 million estimate includes a bridge over the French Broad River and will lead to those miles of the trail costing more than the first segment.
The committee also got a glimpse Wednesday of what the trail may look like in Henderson County once it's complete.
County staff worked with landscape architects to create a vision for the trail that welcomes visitors and pays homage to the railroad, Todd said.
Todd showed the committee a rendering from the architects that includes kiosks, signs and benches for people using the trail.
Trail designers want to have some seamlessness in the trail design but also have points along the way that allow people not as familiar with the area to know exactly where they are.
“We want them to know where the businesses are so they can come spend their money,” he said.
Committee members also discussed whether the trail could use some items left from the railroad, including crossties and rails.
Committee member Ken Shelton asked if rails and crossties along the trail could be stored for use at a later time. Jones responded that storage was not part of the project at this point.
“Our plan right now is to leave them right where they are,” he said.