Our projected construction timeline for 20% of the 14 mile Greenway suggests just how just expensive the final product will be, just how long it might take, and why we might need to pivot to a Plan B
For years, an aggressive marketing campaign for the Kennett Greenway by the Kennett Trail Alliance (KTA) has sought to convince project funders and the public that the Greenway is making excellent progress towards a wide range of deliverables: the Greenway is not just a path connecting residents to local shops and recreation, but promises to provide long-overdue social and environmental justice.
In fact, little progress has been made on the path itself let alone towards the Greenway's broader aspirations, despite a million dollars committed to design fees and a million more in unspent funds. And KTA has pointedly avoided providing any estimates of progress towards the completion of the entire 14 mile Greenway, or even of the 1.4 mile Chandler Mill Trail (CMT) section currently in development. In fact, questions about actual progress, timelines, and deliverables are simply ignored by KTA or are countered with claims that prove to be misleading. This strategy has now been adopted by the Kennett Township (KT) Board of Supervisors (BOS). At a July 20th meeting to rush through an application for an additional $1.5 million in time for a July 31st deadline, Chairman Richard Leff simply ignored questions about costs, timelines, and deliverables for the application in question, and refused to allow broader concerns about the CMT section to be voiced prior to the vote.
So if KTA and KT Supervisors reuse to offer any estimates of costs, timelines, or deliverables, how do we assess progress and then discuss whether we need a new approach? Consider the 2.8 mile section from Chandler Mill Bridge to Victory Brewery now in development. In the first of two posts, we begin by laying out a possible construction timeline. We conclude that the best case scenario projects completion by 2030 at a total cost no less than $8.4M, with $2.5M coming out of local coffers. But it is not difficult to imagine scenarios in which completion may be delayed until 2035, at a total cost no less than $12M, with more than $3.6M coming out of local coffers. This suggests that rest of the Greenway itself will not be completed for at least another 3o years -until 2060 or 2065 - and at an additional cost no less than $30M. This suggests that we need a new approach to meet the needs and desires of area residents.
It is difficult at this time to provide projections of the overall costs, timelines, and deliverables for the entire Greenway with any reasonable accuracy. One reason is that there is no master plan for the entire Greenway: a Master Plan developed after years of study was thrown out by KT Supervisors in 2019 with no public input after KTA raised concerns. Another reason is that the Greenway itself keeps shifting, as the failure to secure a right-of-way through private land forces KTA to radically re-route. This is evident in discrepancies between the general map on the Kennett Greenway website - unchanged for years - with another map that continues to plot sections of the route adjusted where negotiations with landowners have broken down.
Nonetheless, we can develop some projections for the southwestern section which includes CMT, based on the grants submitted and tentative plans discussed to date. Given the dearth of information about overall costs and timelines, these estimates may shift as more data become available or released by KTA. Understanding the basis for these projections can also help to shed some insight into how costs and timelines continue to spiral, and engage the public in considering alternatives.
Western Section of the Greenway
The section described here begins at Chandler Mill Bridge to the south, and ends at Victory Brewery to the north, about 2.3 miles as the crow flies but a bit less than 2.8 miles of actual trail. We can break this up into 4 sections:
CMT (Red): About 1.4 miles from Chandler Mill Bridge to a point on Chandler Mill Road about 200’ south of Hillendale). We divide the $5.5M CMT proposal into 3 phases: Phase 1 covered under the 2017 MTF grant; Phase 2 covered under the recently submitted $1.5M application, and; Phase 3 covered in a future application
WPP (Green): This includes the Whittle Section (500’ long, from the end of CMT to Hillendale just east of the bridge), the Parrish Trail (.8 miles long, from the end of Whittle to the sewage treatment facility on South St.), and Pennock Park (1000’ long, from the end of Parrish through the park to East Penn Railroad tracks)
Underpass (Blue Circle): A 300’ section under the East Penn Railroad tracks
NVF (Orange): About 1500’ through the to-be-developed NVF parcel from the underpass to the parking lot just west of Victory Brewery.
This section can help with estimates of the overall progress. Representing about 20% of the overall length, we can can simply multiply costs and timelines by 5 to begin to broadly estimate what the entire Greenway will involve.
Total Projected Costs
Total projects costs are listed to the right, broken down by section (with the earliest date by which grant funding might be received in brackets). Overall designs and cost estimates are available for 2 of the 4 sections, together comprising about half the total distance: about $1M for the Underpass, and about $5.5M for CMT.
There are different ways to project the costs for the remaining sections. While other shared use paths in the region have been coming in at about $1.5M/mile in 2022, CMT has come in at about $4M/mile. We project that the remaining 1.5 miles could come in at between $1.9M and $5M, but will set the upper limit at $4M, because the $1.5M/mile cost cited above is for trails built on an existing railroad bed which require significantly less design and site preparation. Given the shifting cost estimates offered by KTA, we believe that the total costs of the CMT section may will rise to $6M by the time the entre project is completed. This would also lead us to believe that the total cost could easily approach $40M.
State versus Local Funding
So far, projects in this section have been primarily funded through the state’s MultiModal Transportation Fund (MTF), awarded every November. This requires an additional match of at least 30% from local funds, an amount that may well increase if design and engineering costs exceed 10% of the total grant.
So far, KT has received about $2.7M in MTF grants for this section ($1.7 for CMT and $1M for the Underpass), although less is actually available because of funds spent on the rehabilitation of Chandler Mill Bridge. While the local match so far should be about $.7M, it is likely to be far higher because design fees for CMT have approached 20% of total costs.
While the total projected local costs that remain - $2.1M to $3.2M - might not appear exorbitant to some, note that only a small proportion of local funds have been spent on CMT Phase 1 so far. In fact, local costs will likely increase at least threefold once construction actually begins. This represents a significant increase in capital expenditures in KT; completing all of the remaining projects at the fastest pace (see below) will require that KT dedicates $2.1M to $3.2M in new taxes over the next 8 years. This also suggests that total local costs for the entire Greenway could easily exceed $9M-$10M.
We characterize the local tax burden as significant, requiring an additional $200K-$400K in taxes each year. This is much greater than the most recent tax increase for 2022 (about $160,000) that raised barely enough to cover escalating Fire/EMS costs. This increase would also have to compete with other major capital projects, a challenge given that KT only began last year to create a major capital fund to support long-overdue upgrades to critical infrastructure like roads and sewers. Any unexpected increase in essential costs would necessarily crowd out spending on discretionary projects, like the Greenway. A long term commitment to the Greenway therefore requires sustained tax increases for the next 30-40 years, and assumes other capital expenditures an be accommodated.
A long-term commitment also means the Greenway will remain KTs primary - and perhaps sole - major investment in parks and recreation for the foreseeable future. The delays in opening the $3+M Spar Hill preserve may well represent the struggles that lie ahead. Even in a year with no actual construction costs, KT could not come up with $50K to begin the stabilization of structures needed to begin to open this 100+ acre preserve to the public.
In general, such a timeline would be determined by several factors; the success of grants submitted each year, the speed of the design / permitting / construction process, and the Township’s ability to absorb local costs in their budget. For purposes of our projections we have assumed an aggressive timeline in which KT submits an application to the state as soon as possible each year, and experiences no difficulties absorbing local costs. We project that the final design / permitting / construction process can be completed within 2 years of receipt of the grant but can easily take 3 years or more. This can be viewed as optimistic, given the 1.4 mile CMT section alone is likely to have taken at least 7 or 8 years to be completed.
This timeline for this particular section includes a fourth factor; the rapidity with which the parcel including the former NVF site might be developed. Estimates here are complicated; this 23 acre parcel may still require significant remediation, and as the largest tract of undeveloped land in the Borough of Kennett Square, will take time to develop. We project a best-case scenario of a 2030 completion date, presuming that an overall design for the NVF site is completed within the next 5 to 6 years, and construction of the trail can begin early in the construction of the entire development. But it is also possible that an overall design for the former NVF site may not be ready for 10 years, and that construction of the trail occurs in a later phase, in which case completion of this section might easily wait until 2035.
Even without the unique challenges of the NVF parcel, the timeline outlined above suggests that the 80% of the remaining Greenway cannot be completed in less that 30 years, once the southwestern section is completed between 2030 and 2035. Those just starting a family now might hope to enjoy the Greenway with their grandchildren.
Our conclusion: The Greenway is only worth the cost and the wait if one believes that there are no alternatives.... but there are
The sobering assessment outlined above offers important lessons for planners: while it may be possible to create medium- to long-distance shared-use paths with a combination of state and local funding by converting rails to trails or utilizing existing rights-of-way, it is simply to time-consuming, expensive, and complicated to create such a path under other conditions. Given that the 2.8 mile section described here represents about 20% of the overall route of the Greenway, it is clear that the completion of the Greenway as currently envisioned by KTA and the KT supervisors is simply unrealistic. This becomes even more clear when KTA's claims about the utility and the connectivity offered are considered more critically, as discussed elsewhere. We believe that many residents will agree once they understand these concerns about the feasibility and desirability of the Greenway.
We also believe that it is time to consider a new model built around a network of paths - the Kennett Greenways. The Kennett Greenways pivot away from a single shared use path towards a network of paths tailored to the diverse interests, needs, and abilities of Kennett's residents and visitors. Such a network could include road-based cycling routes, paths through natural settings that are accessible to all, sidewalks and re-purposed alleys in the Borough, and natural trails. The Kennett Greenways could be anchored by two shared-use paths: a 2.8 mile accessible path envisioned above, and a 4 mile path connecting the Borough to Longwood Gardens. We believe that this can be completed much more quickly and at significantly lower cost that the Greenway proposed here. We will provide more details in the coming months.