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OUTLOOK: Transportation planning requires input, expertise

By   /   September 17, 2009  /   Comments

There’s been a lot of action on the transportation front in our community lately, particularly as it pertains to repairing or reconstructing the dilapidated Broad Avenue bridge across the Flint River. And much of what has taken place during public meetings has been very encouraging, especially the newfound reality that at least some state and federal transportation funds indeed will be allocated to our community in the coming months – if we put together a good plan.

Still, some red flags have surfaced that indicate that some fundamental aspects of municipal transportation planning are being ignored by the city of Albany. Namely, it’s apparent that the community’s transportation needs aren’t being holistically contemplated, and it’s equally clear that some elected officials are being deliberately left out of the discussion. That needs to change.

Vance Smith, Jr, Georgia DOT

Vance Smith, Jr, Georgia DOT

To its credit, the revamped Georgia Department of Transportation is reaching out to cities and counties, including ours, to determine our community’s road project needs. By all accounts, new DOT Commissioner Vance C. Smith Jr. is sincere, businesslike, humble, detail-oriented, and perfectly aware of political realities in the very complicate and delicate field he has opted to undertake. We appreciate his efforts.

But in their meetings with DOT officials, Mayor Willie Adams and City Manager Alfred Lott are carrying the Broad Avenue bridge banner for the community quite aggressively without first doing their homework. First of all, we wonder, because some commissioners weren’t aware of their efforts: Under whose authority? And we also wonder: Why are some legislators and local elected officials and not others participating in key meetings, including some being held privately, on current transportation topics?

At public meetings last week, Adams and Lott revealed that the Broad Avenue bridge’s historical significance wasn’t being contemplated, nor was inevitable disturbance of city-owned east bank land contaminated by a radiator shop. The reality is that the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Division, Federal Highway Administration, Georgia Historic Preservation Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources all must sign off on public funding for the project, unless the city is going to pay for the bridge repairs, which it isn’t. Hence, it’s clear that for the Broad Avenue discussion to move forward with any competency, all affected stakeholders – including regular folks who travel the route in question – be invited to the table.

There’s more. Where does the Broad Avenue project fit in with the community’s other transportation priorities, namely: The Clark Avenue bridge and Maple Street extension, Georgia 133 four-lane, Oglethorpe Boulevard widening, Westover Road extension, Georgia 300/U.S. 19 median turn lanes, Old Dawson Road expansion, and streetscape improvements. Then there’s the possible expansion of Interstate 185 to south Georgia. The Albany Chamber of Commerce once declared that as a top community priority, and spent lots of its membership’s money on that school of thought.

The biggest red flag to us, though, about the city’s transportation leadership void is this: On the city’s published itemization of roadway improvement projects – the results of continual meetings, brainstorming, studies, and political decisions — the Broad Avenue bridge and the proposed Georgia 133 four-laning isn’t even listed.

For the Broad Avenue bridge project to warrant consideration at the taxpayers’ behest, it first needs to be put on the community’s transportation priority list.

And before that happens, the project needs to be rationalized through goals and objectives, problem identification, evaluation of alternatives, and development of a plan.

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