A prospective infrastructure project has taken on the generic moniker “skybridge,” but the wish list item is anything but generic. It’s also more than just a bridge.
Specifically, the $62 million project is a multimodal pedestrian access and redevelopment corridor, or PARC. And while it’s true that it would be a cable-suspended bridge accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists, its benefits stretch far beyond a tangible structure.
“How we improve quality of life guides so much of what we do in the City, and it’s always top of mind when we’re looking at infrastructure,” Mayor Tommy Battle said.
About the project
The PARC project was originally floated nearly two decades ago as a flood mitigation effort to reduce the floodplains along Pinhook Creek through the downtown core as well as address pedestrian access.
“The floodplain creates unusable land and prevents improvements to be made to existing structures within downtown,” said Huntsville’s Director of Engineering Kathy Martin. “(PARC) will provide a larger channel with usable recreation space to help reduce flood elevations and allow improvements to the downtown landscape, to include many added benefits of greenway and sidewalk connectivity and safety improvements as they relate to alternate modes of transportation within the area.”
After being put on the back burner, the City resurrected PARC plans again in 2016. Though the scope of work has remained consistent, completing the funding puzzle has been a challenge.
To help close the gap, the City applied for a $25 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In March, the City Council voted to hire the Ferguson Group to write the grant. If the grant is approved in August, Huntsville would commit more than $37 million to offset the remaining costs.
Strategically, PARC meets numerous long-term goals for both infrastructure and connectivity. It not only identifies vital greenway connections that make up the Greenway Master Plan, but it also fills gaps in downtown bike connections included in the City’s Bikeway Plan.
PARC would also provide an economic boost to low-income communities by connecting nearly 5,000 people living within a half-mile radius to vital health care and jobs. The City estimates about 22% of those residents live in public housing and more than 26% do not have access to a vehicle.
Pedestrians and bicyclists attempting to cross Governors Drive or Memorial Parkway put their lives at risk each day. Shane Davis, Huntsville’s Director of Urban and Economic Development, said PARC would greatly improve pedestrian safety. The project would span from just north of Holmes Avenue to near 8th Avenue and Seminole Drive Southwest.
“This will provide safe connectivity between downtown and the Mill Creek and Lowe Mill communities,” Davis said. “It will also open the possibility of multiple pedestrian and bike bridges along Pinhook Creek that will provide connections between Big Spring Park, the commercial corridors of Memorial Parkway and other parts of our downtown area to our trail system.”
Other benefits and support
Davis said other perks include the replacement of an old wooden railroad bridge built in 1939 with a concrete Class I bridge. The improvement would ensure the efficient and reliable movement of freight throughout the City.
PARC would also allow the City to create new linear parks, landscaping and hardscapes. New retaining walls would also stop erosion near the Von Braun Center.
Mayor Battle, Gov. Kay Ivey and U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville have all expressed support for PARC. Other groups backing the project include the Huntsville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau and Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments.
Mayor Battle said the benefits, as well as support at the local, state and federal levels, are indicative of the transformational nature of the PARC project.
“It will not only provide a lifeline to underserved areas, but it will also improve safety and offer a new and unique way for residents and visitors to explore our great city,” he said.