Grant key part of plan for Lee transportation

LEESBURG, Ga. — Despite complaints from some in the community that Lee County would have saved a significant amount of money by turning down a federal matching grant that will fund repairs of Livingston Road in Smithville and funding the work itself, officials here say the claim is not a valid one in that the job could have been done cheaper, but not as well.

County leaders held a ceremony in October to announce the awarding of a $356,373 Community Development Block Grant that will be used for a complete upgrade of Livingston, one of Lee’s most notoriously bad roads.

Yet even while officials hailed the Housing and Urban Development-issued grant, others muttered that the award came with a steep price tag. The $323,300 in matching funds required of the county is much more, they argued, than it would take to resurface the road.

“You’re not talking about an apples-to-apples comparison, not even close,” County Commission Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge said Monday. “That’s more like an apples to some kind of freeze-dried other fruit comparison.

“Yes, we could have done this job cheaper. But we could not have done it as well. We’re going to get 10 times the road we would have gotten on our budget. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing just the basics, we’re going to get a great, state-quality road. The quality of life of the people on Livingston Road is about to change.”

County Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander noted that the CDBG grant will allow the county to provide more than just road resurfacing on Livingston.

“This area floods considerably when there is rain, so it’s not just about improving the road,” Alexander said. “We’ll be able to do it right, to put in storm drainage that will give them relief.

“This road is like a washboard; it needs the work it will get. And, sure, if all we did was put down a coat of asphalt, we could have done it cheaper. But we’re going to use that grant and leverage our funds to get the most we can from that project.”

Commissioner Dennis Roland, who has been pushing to have work done on Livingston since he joined the commission, said that while he’s pleased that the citizens in Smithville will indeed have a new and improved thoroughfare soon, he’d just as soon have seen the county use the less expensive option.

“You know I’m in favor of getting that road paved; that’s the only road I’ve ever pushed to have paved since I’ve been on the commission,” Roland said Monday. “But I don’t think everyone realized what a financial commitment the county would have to make with that matching grant.

“If it had been totally left up to me, I would have turned the grant down. The way I look at is why spend $300,000 when you could have done the job adequately for $150,000? But certainly the folks on Livingston Road deserve a new road as much as anybody.”

Roland said that he’s not been a strong advocate for road paving because he feels there are other, more important issues facing the county.

“I know a lot of folks would like to see their roads paved, especially in the northern part of the county,” he said. “But I’ve always felt improving fire and EMS services is more important.”

Alexander said the county’s Public Works department, much as it is doing on another group of roads currently being prepared for upgrades, will do some of the work to get Livingston ready. That in-house work, he said, will further leverage the county’s portion of funding for the Livingston project.

Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk said he doesn’t expect his crew to start prep work on Livingston any time soon, though.

“It usually takes six to seven months to get a project like this ready, but I know with state and federal regulations to consider it may take even longer,” he said. “I expect when plans are completed and they’re getting ready to get the bids out, Mr. Alexander will most likely call us in to do the grub work to clear the land for contractors.

“This grant is really the biggest help the county could have hoped for in its road projects. The federal funds we will receive on Livingston has allowed us to concentrate on other needed road repairs in the county.”