Board gives to sidewalks, bridges

LAWRENCEVILLE - Transportation officials wanted more money to widen and build major roads in Gwinnett, but residents serving on an advisory board instead want to make a statement by giving more to sidewalks and bridges over the interstate.

In a meeting Friday, the committee recommended at least the bare minimum totals officials asked for transportation categories from school safety to speed humps.

But while Deputy Transportation Director Alan Chapman said he needed at least $50 million from the five-year program to continue the county's roadway improvements, he asked for $120 million - about a third of the $381 million total allocated for transportation in the penny sales tax program, which is on ballots Nov. 4.

The committee cut that, though, giving the sidewalks/pedestrian safety/bikeways and bridges categories a $10 million boost over what officials sought. (The decision was made for a $342.8 million proposed allocation, based on a more conservative revenue estimate.)

"We need to make a statement to the public that we are taking this seriously," said Chuck Smillie, who represents environmentalists on the committee. "They are needing to commute by foot. They are needing to commute by bike."

Transportation Director Brian Allen said he didn't mind the increase to the bridge category, since many major road projects officials have in mind can also be categorized in the bridge category. He gave an example of the McGinnis Ferry Road extension, which would create a bridge over Interstate 85.

But officials balked at the other boost, saying funding for some sidewalk projects come in the form of school safety projects and all road widenings, intersection improvements and similar projects include the building of sidewalks.

"I think we can do a lot with less money on sidewalks," Chapman said, pointing out that a major road improvement costs a lot more per project.

Committee members decided to boost the bridge category because of an emphasis on clearing traffic crossing Interstate 85, including in two of the county's community improvement districts. Allen said the money could go to new bridge crossings or to improvements on Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road.

"(Interstate) 85 is the gateway corridor. It's the life blood of the county, and these bridges are, too," said John McHenry of the Gwinnett Village district who is an alternate to the citizen committee.

If the sales tax referendum passes in November, the committee will meet throughout the fall and winter to create specific project lists.