Owners of 16 business locations on a section of Statesboro’s South Main Street have been told they must move their signs to make way for the Blue Mile streetscape project, but the city will help with the cost.
Spanning about half a mile, from Tillman Road up to the Fair Road, or Georgia Highway 67, intersection, this project includes just Phase 1 of the potential Blue Mile streetscape. South Main is the portion of U.S. Highways 25 and 301 continuing to the Bulloch County Courthouse, and “the Blue Mile” is its name as a redevelopment project.
The Georgia Department of Transportation, or GDOT, in the summer of 2020 awarded Statesboro a grant of up to $1,193,000 or 70% of the total cost, whichever is less, toward this phase of the streetscape and some previously planned drainage improvements. With the construction cost projected at $3.8 million, officials expect that the city will foot more than half of the bill from local sales tax and utilities revenue.
It wasn’t the city, but rather the GDOT, that insisted that local businesses’ signs in the state’s right of way be relocated, said John Washington, Statesboro’s city public works and engineering director.
“As you know, their signs have been there for a long time that are within the right of way, and the Georgia DOT’s position – if they had done this project, if they had done this as originally planned – they would have gone to the business owners and informed them they would have to move their signs at their (own) expense,” he said.
Instead, this is now a city project that has some state funding. Originally, the state Transportation Department in 2017 budgeted just $450,000 for drainage improvements on South Main Street.
But after when the city could not meet a deadline to certify the right of way clear of obstructions, GDOT officials agreed to reschedule the drainage project and combine it with landscaping, sidewalk widening and other improvements sought by the city and the Blue Mile Foundation. The state funding was increased to the current amount in the form of a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant, with the city to oversee the project.
When Washington learned that businesses would be required to move their signs, he noted that this “would not be helpful” with the business owners and talked to City Manager Charles Penny about what could be done. Penny agreed to create an “allowance” in the city’s budgeted funding, “to assist the owners to not pay for a brand-new sign by any means but to help them in relocating their existing signs,” Washington said.
He indicated that the city has at least $100,000 set aside to compensate property owners for the cost of moving signs. He said he did not want to reveal a maximum the city would be able to pay per sign because some signs should cost far less to move than others.
Owners are being asked to get a price quote from any sign company, such as Whitfield Signs or Action Signs locally. City staff members will then compare each quote to an engineering estimate before determining “the allowance” for each sign, he said, noting that the signs vary in size and complexity.
The right of way in this section is 100 feet wide, so a sign is supposed to be more than 50 feet from the legal centerline of the highway. A few businesses’ signs, such as the tall pylon sign at Waffle House, are already outside the right of way, and so are not affected.
But 16 parcels of land touched by the project have signs that are in the right of way and need to be relocated, Washington stated in an email.
The city will not need to acquire any new right of way for this project. But it is asking property owners to grant, for free as is usual, temporary construction easements, allowing the city or contractors to work a short distance on private property. This permission is needed to trench for water, sewer, natural gas, power and telecommunication lines and rebuild driveways, Washington said.
“The city, in trying to be a good neighbor, has contacted the majority of all the business owners and parcel owners to get these easement agreements and the sign relocation agreements and expressed that we would offer an allowance,” he said last week.
The streetscape plan also calls for power poles to be relocated exclusively to the west side of South Main Street, with power lines to be run underground to businesses on the east side of the street. Remaining poles are to be replaced with taller ones to give more clearance over landscape features.
This is meant to reduce the “spider web” of lines above the roadway, to “kind of clear the route where you can see and also kind of present a better aesthetic,” Washington said.
Georgia Power and other utility companies agreed to this in a meeting last year, he said. The city is paying them for the relocation of lines as part of its project cost. An earlier proposal to place all lines underground on both sides of the highway was ruled out as too expensive, he said.
Plan and timeline
In the half of the Blue Mile it covers, this phase of the project will include sidewalk widening, utility relocation, one bus shelter for the city’s planned mass transit program, driveway access points designed to be safer for pedestrians to cross, landscaped “pocket parks,” benches and streetlamps.
The GDOT’s grant award letter required the city to have the project “in progress” by this June 1. That can be satisfied by obtaining bids, which city officials hope to do around March, and awarding a construction contract, Washington said.
“Our plans are to get started in the summer of 2021,” he said. “We’re estimating it’s a 15- to 16-month project.”
So, the work should be complete in fall 2022.
Meanwhile, Uncle Shug’s on Main is among the businesses with a sign that needs to be moved. Uncle Shug’s owner Stacy Underwood had been visited by representatives of the city and EMC Engineering, he said Tuesday. Officials said the city would “help out” to move the existing sign, he confirmed. He didn’t have a cost estimate yet.
“I know they want to go ahead and get them moved in the next couple of months,” Underwood said. “I’ll do what I can. They’re going to improve the looks of the streetscape there, and it’s going to be a good thing when they have a finished product.”
There is no schedule yet for Phase 2 of the streetscape project.