Valdosta Daily Times

November 28, 2012

Slow progress in District raises concerns

City works to resurface roads, build sidewalks with limited funds

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Valdosta’s District 1 is set to receive two new sidewalks and have four streets resurfaced, but some residents believe these have been too long in coming and had hoped to see more improvements.

The Valdosta City Council approved two separate plans at its Nov. 15 regular meeting — one for sidewalks funded by SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and another for streets to be paved with Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant dollars, funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

But the resurfacing project plans improvements to less than half a mile of community streets and about 4,700 feet of sidewalks along two roads. City Manager Larry Hanson said a tight budget is partially to blame.

“When we passed the SPLOST referendum in 2008, the city expected to have $72 million in the next year, but that estimated $72 million ended up being $52 million,” Hanson said. “That’s $20 million less than we projected, so we had to reduce the number of projects.”

In addition to coming up short on SPLOST to fund sidewalks and other municipal projects, often these projects involve more than “just sidewalks,” Hanson said; they require the retro-fitting or relocation of utilities, the installation of curb and gutter and other challenges.

“You can’t just pour a sidewalk two feet off the road without curb and gutter,” Hanson said. “It takes more time and more money and more design to retro-fit older neighborhoods with sidewalks. It’s just not that simple.”

In other districts seeing near-constant construction to erect new buildings and repair old real estate, the builders themselves are responsible for the installation of sidewalks, Hanson said, not the city.

“Sidewalks are usually paid for by the private developer putting in the new development,” Hanson said. “That’s the way it’s been done for the past 20 years.”

Older communities that were established prior to this plan fall under the responsibility of the city government, which is the other problem, according to Hanson. Areas not seeing continued development require government dollars that are difficult to come by these days, especially since 100 percent of these capital improvement projects are funded through SPLOST.

The SPLOST VII referendum was turned down Nov. 6, but the city will have an opportunity to list it again next November, after a 12-month waiting period required by Georgia statutes. The city has no say in whether SPLOST will appear on the off-season ballot; the Lowndes County Commission is the only government entity that can officially call for the referendum, Hanson said.

Resurfacing projects are another issue. The city must submit a list of streets in need of improvement, and GDOT will assess which have the greatest need before choosing to dole out grant dollars through the LMIG program, Hanson said, and most do not qualify.

“We’ll submit 30 streets, assuming we’ll get 13,” Hanson said. “Say we turn in Slater Street, and the DOT evaluates it, and they say it’s borderline. They pick the ones that meet their criteria.”

The typical life of a city street is about 20 years, or 15 to be safe. Of the 283 miles of city streets in Valdosta, 12.82 miles of resurfacing have been purchased since 2011, including the pending projects, Hanson said. This mileage must be spread city-wide to address multiple issues.

The need is apparent and constant, said District 1 Councilman James Wright, especially among his constituents. While Woodlawn Drive and East Brookwood Place may not display “cow trails” — those footpaths worn into the grass by pedestrians — residents often walk in the streets themselves.

“There’s not any cow trails you see there because the children walk in the road,” Wright said. “The wheelchairs, the people in the community, they have to travel in the streets. When you walk around, you have to walk in somebody’s yard or in the street along the white line. There’s a real need, not only in this community, but in other areas.”

Wright raised concerns in previous council meetings about this need not being addressed, so he is glad to see whatever improvements are made to the area, he said. No matter how big or how small the mileage.

“You won’t hear me fuss about it because any progress is better than none at all,” Wright said. “We will always want more, but I am satisfied.”