The Georgia Department of Transportation has committed $450,000 for sidewalk and other improvements on the Blue Mile of South Main Street – if Statesboro wins one of the America’s Best Community contest prizes of $1 million or more.
Having previously won $150,000 as a quarterfinalist and finalist in the ABC competition, Statesboro now has a shot at one of the top prizes of $3 million, $2 million or $1 million to continue with its Blue Mile redevelopment plan. The three winners, out of eight finalist communities nationally, are to be announced April 19. Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and the Weather Channel are funding the contest.
Following up on an unspecified verbal commitment, the city recently sent the Georgia Department of Transportation a letter requesting state funding of street, drainage and sidewalk improvements on and around South Main. In reply, Mayor Jan Moore received a letter from Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell R. McMurry, who wrote that his department is ready to commit up to $450,000 or 70 percent of the cost, whichever is less.
“The Department’s commitment will be contingent upon the City being awarded the America’s Best Communities Grant,” McMurry’s Feb. 15 letter states.
He specified that the money would be for new sidewalks, curbs, gutters and drainage improvements on the section of South Main Street between Tillman Road and West Main Street “also known as the Blue Mile Project.”
Mayor Jan Moore read the commitment letter during Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting.
“We don’t have the money, but if we win, then they’ve committed up to $450,000 to do work along there,” she said. “So, you know, I think that’s wonderful. It makes winning all the more important.”
No new intersection
At this point, the state DOT has not offered any money for reworking the intersection of Georgia Highway 67, or Fair Road, and U.S. Highway 301. Redesign of the intersection, which is in the Blue Mile, has appeared on local project lists since the 1990s but has always been pushed to the future in favor of other projects, Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire said at a previous meeting.
The highways and Brannen Street meet around a triangular island in an arrangement with multiple stop signs and a yield. Driving from Highway 67 onto U.S. 301, also known as South Main, requires some neck-craning to see approaching traffic, Moore observed.
Cheshire made the intersection part of the request to DOT. But at Tuesday evening’s council meeting, he acknowledged that the intersection work would cost more than many of the other improvements.
“The $450,000 for what they said there, for things like sidewalks, drainage, then that would take care of a lot of that, but the intersection, obviously, is much more than that,” he said.
Cheshire worded his Feb. 13 letter to McMurry as supplementing a September request for help with drainage on South Main and “geometric improvements” to the intersection. City Council authorized the Feb. 13 letter after Moore reported an offer of unspecified state funds from recent contacts between local people and DOT officials.
The drainage and intersection improvements remain “absolutely critical for obvious safety and efficiency reasons” Cheshire wrote, but added that the city was broadening its request to include sidewalk, curb and gutter, Americans with Disabilities Act compliant access and pedestrian crossings.
Cheshire cited local spending on projects in the Blue Mile as a potential match for state funding. He listed $46,500 spent for surveying and preliminary engineering from the ABC quarterfinalist and finalist prizes, $150,000 earmarked for roadway improvements from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and $350,000, also from SPLOST, for water and sewer improvements. He noted the Tax Allocation District that surrounds South Main as a source of “yet to be determined” funds.
The DOT’s $450,000 commitment would amount to 70 percent state funding of a $642,800 project. If Statesboro won even the $1 million ABC third prize, it would have $1,450,000 available from the prize and the DOT funding.
However, cash from an ABC award also could go to elements of the Blue Mile plan that the DOT cannot fund. Landscaping, a dog park and other green space are proposed to make the area more attractive to visitors and pleasant for residents.
Neighborhood revitalization, as well as commercial redevelopment, is part of the Blue Mile plan’s broader goals.
Tuesday night City Council unanimously approved a zoning change for a 0.29-acre lot at 11 W. Inman Street, allowing the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority to have a three-bedroom, single-family house built on the site where a dilapidated home has now been demolished. Previously in a Highway-Oriented Commercial zone on one side, the site will now be all R4 high-density residential.
The DSDA has partnered with the Homebuilders Association for the project aimed at neighborhood revitalization, “trying to bring home ownership back into the downtown area,” said DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew.
The site is within the Tax Allocation District where growth in tax revenues resulting from new construction is committed to public projects in the district.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.