River Falls priority for new council

Published 12:22 am Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Andalusia’s mayor and council-elect agreed last night not to pursue Transportation Enhancement grant funding from the Department of Transportation in the coming fiscal year in hopes they can secure funding for enhancing River Falls Street in subsequent years.

The new council, slated to take office in November, needed to make the decision now because applications are due on Oct. 3.

“One of our biggest needs in the city is River Falls Street,” Mayor-elect Earl Johnson said. “It’s in a bad state of disrepair.”

Johnson explained that River Falls Street was once maintained by the state. However, when the city rerouted traffic on the court square, the state vacated River Falls Street as part of the process and the city is now responsible for its maintenance.

“This is a major, major project that will take about $3.5 million to do,” Johnson said. “We may have to scale it back to do it.”

Tim Ramsden of CDG Engineers explained that a previous grant application for replacing sidewalks on River Falls Street was denied.

“At the time, the master plan for improving River Falls Street was not finished,” Ramsden said. “The DOT saw (the application) as just replacing the sidewalks that were already there. Now they’re looking at it as a true enhancement.”

Ramsden said the proposed sidewalks are now eligible for grant funding, but not fundable because DOT wants to see evidence of funding for the entire project before committing funds to it.

Ramsden explained that the state Department of Transportation gets about half as much funding from the federal government for these grants as in the past. Because there is less money to give away, he said, communities usually don’t get funding in subsequent years.

When the River Falls Street project was first denied funding, the current administration asked several engineering firms for proposed projects. One being strongly considered was to build a sidewalk along Tisdale Street from South Cotton to Stanley Avenue.

Johnson strongly encouraged the council to postpone application for grant funds for a year in hopes of being able to put together additional funding for the River Falls Street project, adding that at some point, the council might have to decided whether or not to borrow the money to do it.

“There’s no foot traffic on this route to speak of,” he said, adding that the proposed sidewalk would run parallel to the sidewalks on East Three Notch. In addition, he said, there are walking trails in Robinson Park, behind city hall, and at LBW.

“If (that project) takes away from an opportunity to get funding for River Falls Street, River Falls Street is a priority for this administration, we don’t need to do it,” Johnson said.

With local sales tax collections flat, he said, the council will have to take a laser-like approach to future projects.

“We need to decide what really is a priority and try to get that done,” he said.

Hazel Griffin, who will represent District 3, in which River Falls Street is located, in the next administration, agreed that the council should wait.

“The merchants out there are chomping at the bits to get something done,” she said.

The group met in a special called meeting at city hall after the regular council meeting.