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Plan calls for re-routing controversial Gills Creek pathway

A new plan for a greenway along Gills Creek calls for a pathway to start near Fort Jackson Boulevard and move downstream. In the photo above, University of South Carolina students participate in the January 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service by cleaning up Gills Creek near Fort Jackson Boulevard. That area was affected by flooding in October 2015.
A new plan for a greenway along Gills Creek calls for a pathway to start near Fort Jackson Boulevard and move downstream. In the photo above, University of South Carolina students participate in the January 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service by cleaning up Gills Creek near Fort Jackson Boulevard. That area was affected by flooding in October 2015. rthompson@thestate.com

The controversial pedestrian pathway along Gills Creek will be considerably shorter and made of concrete now that Columbia officials have weighed in and also agreed to maintain it and police it.

City design standards require the pathway to be 14 feet wide and to have public bathrooms, said David Beaty, spokesman for a consortium of companies helping to oversee the pathway, along with dozens of other penny sales tax projects.

“Wider means shorter,” Beaty said Friday.

Original plans would have made the path 8 to 10 feet wide; also, it might not have been made of concrete.

Beaty estimates that a final design will be done late this year. Construction on the $2.3 million project will begin early in 2019 and be finished about a year later, he said.

City Council approved an agreement in early December that puts in writing its commitment to maintain the pathway and patrol it, largely with city park rangers, said Dana Higgins, Columbia’s chief engineer who worked with the county and Beaty’s group.

Presented to a skeptical public in 2016 and last year, the first design called for a 1.3-mile pathway along the east bank of the creek, extending from Kilbourne Road, downstream to Mikell Lane, which is near South Beltline Boulevard.

But residents of some of the well-heeled neighborhoods built near the creek, especially Hampton Estates, objected. So the county and Beaty’s group, known as the program development team, went back and moved the pathway to the west bank.

After Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce and Columbia Councilman Daniel Rickenmann met with neighbors, the starting point of the pathway was moved about 2,000 feet downstream to Fort Jackson Boulevard instead of Kilbourne Road.

Still, the most vocal critics wanted the project stopped altogether. They argued the pathway would hurt their property values, would attract homeless people and make residents subject to more crime because of the volume of pedestrians and bicyclists who would use it.

So the agreement council approved Dec. 5 specifically excludes Hampton Estates from the pathway. The agreement also puts in writing that the pathway will be built along the west bank.

Beaty said the new length will be about 4,500 feet.

Other changes in the agreement, Beaty said, include kiosks that city officials said will be trail markers for walkers and bikers. Water fountains, benches and elevated boardwalks in some places are new under the agreement, he said.

“The closer you get to the water ... you will need a boardwalk,” Beaty said. “But it costs more.

“We’re starting at Fort Jackson (Boulevard) and so we’re going to build as far as the money allows us.”

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