Granite Quarry board steps away from sidewalk project called ‘the worst type of government boondoggle imaginable’
GRANITE QUARRY — The Granite Quarry Board of Aldermen has backed out of a $490,000 sidewalk construction project, which would have been funded mostly by federal dollars.
The decision came after lengthy discussion Tuesday evening in connection to the town’s 2017-18 budget hearing.
Of the $490,000 total sidewalk project, $384,000 would have come from federal funding, $50,000 from a Carolina Thread Trail grant and $56,000 — and possibly more — from the town.
The “possibly more” was one of the sticking points for town officials, as were the delays in the project up to this point. The project called for new sidewalk on parts of U.S. 52 (North Salisbury Avenue), Kern Street, Oak Street and Crook Street.
Federal funding was first earmarked for the project in October 2015.
Town officials invited principals with the project’s engineering firm to Tuesday evening’s meeting. The invitation came after Mayor Bill Feather and Town Manager Phil Conrad raised numerous concerns about where the project was and where it was headed at a June 8 meeting.
The engineering firm was AMT, standing for A. Morton Thomas & Associates of Raleigh.
“One thing very disappointing is the delays,” Feather told the AMT representatives Tuesday night. Feather added some issues coming to light recently should have been discussed with the town much earlier in the process.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Brinkley said later Tuesday night the board was unhappy with the engineering firm. “I personally felt like they had let us down,” Brinkley said. “I just did not see going forward with it.”
Aldermen decided to keep its part of the project, the $56,000, in the town’s overall budget, and possibly look at sidewalk extensions with less strings attached in other parts of Granite Quarry.
“U.S. 52 had all kind of issues,” Brinkley said. “It just looked like it was going to be a problem.”
One Granite Quarry resident who definitely agreed with Brinkley was Ed Shell, who lives in the Countryside subdivision on the northern end.
He listed at least seven reasons why he thought Granite Quarry should back out of the $490,000 sidewalk project.
Shell spoke during the budget hearing and left the town board with two recommendations: take the $56,000 and put it toward existing sidewalk repairs or some other purpose, or don’t spend that $56,000 at all and reduce the tax rate by 6 percent, or 2.5 cents per $100 valuation.
Shell called this project “the worst type of government boondoggle imaginable,” when he heard the argument that the town was going to spend “only $56,000” in obtaining $380,000 in federal money and $50,000 from the Carolina Thread Trail.
“That sort of logic,” Shell said, “only serves to illustrate and confirm to fiscally responsible individuals why our taxes are as high as they are and our country’s deficits are of such considerable magnitude.
“This isn’t progress — it’s the height of irresponsibility.”
Shell particularly zeroed in on the new sidewalk proposed along U.S. 52 from Dunn’s Mountain Church Road to the entrance of Countryside. He said “a vast majority of the residents of Countryside” have strongly objected to the proposed sidewalk for some of these reasons:
• The sidewalk “will serve no meaningful purpose,” Shell said.
• The sidewalk would potentially lead to more pedestrian accidents because of U.S. 52’s traffic and all the new access points to a State Employees’ Credit Union.
• Shell said the only reason the sidewalk was proposed to extend to Countryside was so the town could qualify for the federal grant. Without being able to count the homes in Countryside, the project would not have qualified, Shell said.
• Shell said the town had not set aside any contingency funds in case the project went over budget and that officials hadn’t recognized the long-term costs of maintaining the sidewalk.
• A large, “profusely blooming” camellia hedge at the entrance to Countryside would have been destroyed by a new sidewalk, Shell said. He said the hedge is “one of the well-known, visually attractive features that greets visitors to Granite Quarry.”
“It has taken more than two decades for this prominent planting to reach its current majestic proportions,” Shell said, “and the proposed project will totally obliterate it and leave in its place an ugly strip of concrete.”
AMT was on its third project manager for the sidewalk project. A design for 30 percent of the project was submitted in March. But right-of-way acquisition, environmental documents, construction permits and a final design all had yet to be accomplished.
Bids were not scheduled to be solicited until February, according to AMT’s timetable.
A senior associate with AMT acknowledged “the project did slip.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
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