Richland County will receive bids Wednesday on a proposed three-mile greenway that, when finished, will eventually connect downtown Columbia with the Riverbanks Zoo.
“What we haven’t been able to do is connect the dots between the zoo, which gets about 1.4 million (visitors) a year and the museum cluster downtown,” River Alliance CEO Mike Dawson said. “So we’re going to have people moving back and forth, but they’re also going to be going out there to just see the river.”
Construction on the new Saluda Riverwalk is set to begin in June and take about a year to finish, according to Dawson. The initial phase would create a concrete pathway along the Saluda River’s north bank between the Interstate 126 bridge over the Broad River and the Interstate 26 bridge over the Saluda roughly three miles away. The trail would pass the Riverbanks Zoo.
The second phase will start once work begins on that segment. River Alliance plans call for a bridge to connect the trail with a small river island at the confluence of the Broad and Saluda rivers. That island is not currently accessible to the public, beyond kayakers or tubers who travel on the river itself. Crews would then build a much larger bridge that would cross the Saluda River and link the trail up with West Columbia.
Roughly $8.8 million is needed to fund the work, with the majority ($7.9 million) coming through Richland County sales tax money. The bridge will be built with $750,000 in federal transportation dollars and a $200,000 match from the city of West Columbia.
The next phase would then construct a third bridge across the Broad River to link up the Saluda Riverwalk with the existing Columbia Canal trail on the river’s east side. Preliminary work is not set to begin on that project until at least 2018.
South Carolina’s environmental agency is in the process of reviewing a navigable waters permit for the island bridge. The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s public comment period on the permit expires Thursday.