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The East Coast Greenway is a vast public works project that is creating a transportation infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians along the Eastern Seaboard.  It is akin to the Interstate Highway System. Estimated build-out for the spine route is $3 billion. The East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) is the driving nonprofit force behind the Greenway, mobilizing leaders from the municipal to the federal level to invest in the project’s completion.

Making the Greenway is an enormous partnership undertaking. The ECGA provides the leadership and coordination to ensure continuity and a consistent product, based on Alliance routing criteria. This is both a top-down and a bottom-up trail building process. It depends for its success on direction by the Alliance, federal financial support, and the involvement of hundreds of state and local government agencies, trail advocates, and other non-profit organizations.

While huge in scope and scale, creation of the Greenway is happening incrementally, one segment at a time. It will take decades to achieve the ECGA goal of a mostly off-road Greenway. Currently, and for many years to come, portions of the route temporarily follow roads that link the completed trail sections together and enable public use. We consider the on-road sections of the trail interim and continue to work to move them onto traffic-free right-of-way since our vision is for the ECG to be entirely off-road and traffic-free.

We approach our work with both determination and patience, knowing that the Appalachian Trail was largely on road for many decades and is achieving a fully secured off-road right-of-way only after 80 years of diligence. We acknowledge the long-term nature of this trail-making project. The East Coast Greenway Alliance is committed to working to achieve a 95% traffic-free route by 2030.

Creating and advocating for the vision

The Alliance works to ensure continuity and a consistent quality of route by establishing a clear vision and orchestrating an advocacy effort to build the support for this vision. Our state committees provide the advocacy at the state and local levels with the Alliance board and staff supporting their efforts. The Alliance also builds support from federal agencies and national partner organizations, and coordinates a broad communications effort to increase awareness of the ECG vision.  Where no local trail projects are underway, the Alliance assumes responsibility for establishing new trail projects.

Four regions

We divided the 3,000-mile route into four regions for planning and operational purposes:

  1. New England: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut
  2. Mid-Atlantic: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, DC
  3. South Atlantic: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina
  4. Southeast: Georgia, Florida

Defining the route, establishing the trail

The Alliance board is the body charged with establishing the Greenway through a formal designation process. The board first approves the route corridor, which experiences some changes from time to time through a “designation”process and then the inclusion of specific completed trail as part of the ECG trail system. New trails are nominated by ECGA state committees, field checked by volunteers or staff against established criteria, brought to our Trail Council for review, and finally approved by the Alliance Board of Trustees .

The Alliance also plays a proactive role in defining new off-road route. While many sections of the Greenway are initiated as local trails, there are many portions of the route that will depend on the Alliance to determine a way to them bring off-road. 27% of the corridor still remains to be defined, and it will be up to the Alliance to make that happen.

Building the Greenway

Because this trail is a hard-surface facility, it does not lend itself to the kind of hands-on trail making by volunteers on back-country, soft-surface trails. There is some opportunity for that during the initial stages of cleaning up a given corridor, such as an abandoned rail line. Generally, we depend on professional design and construction to build our hard-surface route, which is done by local or state organizations.  The Alliance does not build trail.

A great deal of the proposed route is already in public ownership, so only limited acquisition of right-of-way is needed, but that will undoubtedly be expensive and, in some cases, challenging.

Trail construction is usually organized by local or state agencies or volunteers. Here, a boardwalk and road connections are being built on the White Oak Creek Greenway in Cary, NC.

The funds to acquire, plan, and build the Greenway come chiefly from federal transportation monies that flow to the states and localities, usually via Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) for dispersal through both earmarks and programs like Enhancements, Recreational Trails, and Congestion Mitigation. Matching funds come from state and local governments and in-kind sources.

We estimate the full cost of our spine route at $2.1 billion in further investment, based on a cost of $1 million per mile, including the more costly infrastructure of bridges and tunnels. Such an investment will create thousands of jobs throughout the eastern seaboard. While complete records on the funding already allocated to and/or spent on the Greenway have not yet been compiled, it totals over $700 million to-date.

Promoting use of the Greenway

While still heavily involved in trail development, the Alliance’s role is beginning to shift into marketing the Greenway for use. Initially, we have focused on making cue sheets, user maps and guides, and posting trail markers and informational kiosks along the route. We will also package travel itineraries for the model sections where much trail is complete, like our New York City Weekend Trip Planner. This will encourage families and others to get out and experience the Greenway on day or weekend trips or longer excursions. Eventually, the Alliance will promote use of the ECG and the network of linking routes as a vast travel network, via both our web and printed materials, but also using interactive kiosks planted along the route, cell phones, and other emerging technologies.

Stewarding the Greenway

The Alliance does not own any portion of the Greenway and will not directly maintain or manage it. The trails that constitute the Greenway are owned and managed by local public bodies: state, county, and municipal agencies.

The Alliance plays a role in ensuring that the condition of this route is maintained. We monitor trail conditions to ensure long-distance users of consistency in fundamental trail quality. We will work to support the budget requests by local trail-managing agencies to ensure adequate maintenance levels. A longer-range goal is to secure the resources to establish a trail endowment. We could then make grants to local trails to provide the revenues needed to deal with emergencies or to embellish the trail with amenities, including public art.

Important role of our state committees

The Alliance works through our 16 state committees who coordinate route selection and undertake our advocacy efforts to move the agenda ahead within each state. They bring hundreds of volunteers into the process of trail making. By building support from both citizens and public agencies at the local and state levels, they provide the legitimacy for this project.

Essential role of local trail initiatives

Were it not for the civic energy behind scores of local trail projects, assembling the Greenway would a much more speculative goal. Virtually every community along our route is involved in developing bikepaths and multi-user trails, some of which will serve as sections of our route. Examples are the Eastern Trail Alliance in Maine, the Farmington Canal Rail to Trail Association and the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance in Connecticut, and Triangle Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in North Carolina. This trail movement involves thousands of additional volunteers indirectly in the making of the Greenway. In many cases, the local trail advocacy organizations evolve into friends of the trail groups and continue working for the maintenance of these local trails. An excellent example is the Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails in Maryland.

Role of local, county, and state governments

The Greenway is being built and will be owned and managed by public agencies, chiefly municipal and county governments, but also by state and to a very limited extent by federal agencies. Their commitment to these local trails is evidence of the value of trails for their communities and to their economies.

Meeting and summits, such as this ECG summit in North Carolina, bring advocates and government officials together with ECGA staff to plan the Greenway. Photo: Matt Hayes.

Role of federal government

In 1999, the ECG was designated a National-Millennium-Trail”>National Millennium Trail, a program administered by USDOT.  However, it is not part of the National Trail System administered by the Department of Interior under the National Trails Act passed by Congress in 1968. The Alliance aspires to be included within the National Trail System at some point, but is currently focusing its resources on getting the trail built. To that end, federal transportation dollars funneled through state and local governments are paying for much of the cost of building the Greenway. In addition, the Greenway has received substantial support from the National Park Service through its Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, mainly in the form of technical assistance for local trail projects but also through limited but important direct financial support to the Alliance.

Other partners

The Alliance works closely with scores of other organizations who have a stake in the Greenway’s realization.  Some of our key partners are:

  • Rails to Trails Conservancy: Provides technical assistance on the rail abandonment process, leadership in transportation policy and funding, and advocacy for specific trails through its regional staff. RTC President Keith Laughlin sits on the ECGA Advisory Board, and past President David Burwell is a former member.
  • League of American Bicyclists: Provides leadership in improving bicycling conditions in the United States, including funding policy leadership. LAB Executive Director Andy Clark sits on our Advisory Board.
  • AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials): Shapes a national bicycle route network. John Horsley, AASHTO Executive Director, sits on our Advisory Board.
  • Adventure Cycling Association: Provides leadership for the effort to shape a bicycle route network for the United States that will be officially recognized by AASHTO.
  • Surface Transportation Policy Project: Provides leadership in shaping future federal transportation funding programs.
  • America Bikes: Provides leadership for bicycle commuters in shaping future federal transportation funding programs.
  • Bikes Belong: Brings the bicycle industry into a supportive role in funding bicycle facility infrastructure and promotional programs.
  • American Hiking Society: Advocates for America’s hiking trails.
  • State bicycle advocacy organizations: Support the ECG agenda within their states as part of their bicycle advocacy. An example is the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.
  • Bicycle Clubs: Many provide funding to the Alliance and generally support the ECG vision. They are a link to bicycle constituencies.
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC): Has provided much “big sister” mentoring to the ECGA over past years. President David Startzell also participated in our 2010 Strategic Committee in 2004, which shaped our Close the Gaps Campaign.
  • American Trails: The national organization for trails, they mount bi-annual conferences that bring trails professionals and advocates together to share information and experiences. AT has an excellent web site supporting trail organizations.