Port Huron's 'once in a lifetime' pathway over Black River Canal is a go, but its cost is twice as high as expected

·5 min read
Local officials are working on plans for new trail projects that will connect several local schools along the Black River Canal.
Local officials are working on plans for new trail projects that will connect several local schools along the Black River Canal.

The construction of a pedestrian pathway over the Black River Canal in northern Port Huron is still on tap in the coming months, but local leaders said the project is coming with a slight delay and a much more expensive price tag than planned.

As part of the larger Bridge-to-Bay trail effort, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County — in partnership with the city and Port Huron Area Schools — first announced the project more than a year ago. At the time, the nonprofit put the project total at $650,000.

Last Monday, Port Huron City Council members signed off on a $1.3 million bid for the project, while City Manager James Freed put the total cost at just over $1.4 million.

The administrator called it a “once-in-a-generation” project. During an interview, he said, “It’s beautiful to walk that canal back there on the side of the north end of the cemetery. We’ll probably get a lot of recreational walkers and bikers.”

The canal trail would begin off Gratiot Avenue heading west along the south side of the waterway and north end of Lakeside Cemetery, heading north between Holland Woods Middle School and Port Huron Northern High School and continuing down Krafft Road.

Port Huron Area School District and the city of Port Huron are finalizing plans for trails that will connect Port Huron Northern High School to Holland Woods Middle School along the Black River Canal.
Port Huron Area School District and the city of Port Huron are finalizing plans for trails that will connect Port Huron Northern High School to Holland Woods Middle School along the Black River Canal.

Filling financial holes: Why does the project cost more?

Randy Maiers,  president of the Community Foundation, which manned much of the fundraising for the project, credited the truss bridge that will create the pathway over the canal, “spanning a pretty large waterway,” as the biggest piece that led to an increase in pricing.

He compared the bridge structure planned to that of the fishing pier on pilings installed at the Blue Water River Walk but said it would be bigger.

Eric Witter, the city’s director of public works, whose department did the 10-foot-wide pathway’s design work and layout, said they had to do additional deeper soil borings near the canal after the preliminary design.

But “like anything else we’re doing nowadays,” he said things are also just more expensive in materials and resources.

An outline for the dimensions of the prefabricated truss bridge that'll span the Black River Canal as part of a larger $1.4 million 10-foot pathway project connection two local schools and Gratiot Avenue and Krafft Road.
An outline for the dimensions of the prefabricated truss bridge that'll span the Black River Canal as part of a larger $1.4 million 10-foot pathway project connection two local schools and Gratiot Avenue and Krafft Road.

On Monday, Freed told council members the new total of $1.4 million included the $240,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, $315,057 from the city’s American Rescue Plan dollars, at least $242,172 from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, and $626,834 from foundations he didn’t specify. In addition to a contingency of more than $80,000, they were short close to $49,000.

“But I have been assured by members of the community, we will raise that money in the next two weeks,” Freed said. 

Maiers said, “We are the other foundation the city’s working with, and we’re confident that we’ll (be able) to cover the cost.”

St. Clair County Commissioner Jorja Baldwin, whose district includes northern Port Huron, also has a request into the county board Thursday to use $50,000 of her share of the county's ARP funds to go toward the canal pathway.

Building a trail culture: Why is the canal path a big deal?

Working out all of the design and cost details, Witter said, did put them back a couple of months putting out the bid and spurring a delay in the start of construction.

Originally, he’s said they hoped to complete the pathway and bridge this year.

Now, Witter said the contractor — council awarded the bid to Boddy Construction — still has to finalize its schedule but he expected things to get started sometime by this fall with work continuing potentially during the winter and finishing next spring.

“The reason this is important is it not only creates new walkways and recreational pathways for our community, it also creates resiliency between those campuses,” Freed said Monday. Citing a potential emergency between Northern or Holland Woods, he said, “If we had this pedestrian bridge, we could evacuate those kids to the nearest campus and vice versa.”

Cyclists participate in a pop-up bike ride following an announcement of grand funding for Bridge to Bay Trail projects in St. Clair County.
Cyclists participate in a pop-up bike ride following an announcement of grand funding for Bridge to Bay Trail projects in St. Clair County.

Maiers and other officials have also emphasized the Black River Canal piece’s importance in the larger Bridge-to-Bay trail effort.

Sheri Faust, who chairs the Regional Trails Board coordinating local trail projects, said it better links St. Clair County’s northern and southern communities, adding, “Getting people over a waterway, that’s dangerous right now.”

Currently, there is a sidewalk up the length of Gratiot Avenue. But the access over the existing vehicle bridge to pedestrians and bicycles is narrow.

Gratiot itself is slated for reconstruction next year from Elmwood Street to Holland Avenue. Witter said no widening of the road was planned, though down the road they may be able to consider an off-street path north of Holland.

“It’s not that it’s necessarily a planned project at this time but is identified as one of the gaps,” he said.

There are sidewalks along much of Gratiot, as well as an existing five feet of space on either side of Gratiot from Garfield Street to Holland.

Faust said the overall goal of Bridge-to-Bay was to connect the county’s state parks between Algonac and Lakeport. So far, she said they’re 50% done.

And because a lot of that trail caters to “urban freighter watching,” with varying trail types including bike lanes, she said, “It’s not always going to be a separated side path in a rural setting. You’re often going to have to share side space. But we want to build that trail culture here.”

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Pathway over Black River Canal is a go but much more expensive than planned