A television news broadcast maligned it as an example of squandered federal stimulus funds. Some residents point to a cavalier mayor and his assistant for what some have referred to as “the mess.” In turn, they fire back, accusing their accusers of creating a political storm in a tea cup.
Whatever the angle, the Central Avenue sidewalk construction in Doraville has drawn sharp reactions–while exposing undeniable divisions in a city priding itself on inclusiveness.
The point of contention: a row of power poles embedded in a new sidewalk along one side of the road, preventing wheelchair or stroller access on a path connecting the Doraville Marta station, at its summit, to Buford Highway.
Construction’s under way on both sides of the road. The $160,000 project is funded by a federal stimulus grant and was started in July, said Luke Howe, the mayor’s assistant who applied for the grant.
When residents noticed one side lined with poles amid the wet concrete, questions began. Former city council member Tom Hart was among leading critics.
In a widely distributed e-mail, Hart said the sidewalk was “a perfect example of the city of Doraville knowingly squandering taxpayers’ money. As this sidewalk is completed it will become more and more obvious to all what we were screaming about for the last six months.”
However, Howe, referred to in the same e-mail as the mayor’s “pr guy and campaign manager,” said the accusations couldn’t be further from the truth.
An initial cost estimate by Georgia Power to have the poles moved, thereby allowing wheelchair access, was $15,000-$18,000–which was budgeted in the grant proposal, said Howe.
“But the price went to $70,000 [after the grant was awarded],” he said. “We didn’t have a choice but to go through [the concrete] with the poles.”
In a television interview last month, Hart, standing by the sidewalk, said: “What is the point of putting a sidewalk in, if the entire sidewalk is lined with a telephone pole right in the center…I mean, it’s not (Americans with Disabilities Act) compatible. It’s hardly pedestrian compatible.”
Howe said the story was sensationalized and missed key facts, such as that Hart’s construction company had bid on the project but was turned down because “all the correct paperwork” was not filed. Georgia Power’s contrasting estimates were also omitted.
And in another twist: “The sidewalks will never be ADA compliant because the grade [the road’s incline] is too steep,” said Howe. “And there’s nothing we can do to change that.”
Stuck with the poles and not being permitted to use stimulus money for land acquisition, the city has used its own funds to buy the land for the sidewalk from the Salvation Army, its owners, for $800. The easement agreement means the Salvation Army still owns the land but the city can do construction.
Howe said the plan is to widen the sidewalk by pouring more concrete, allowing enough room for wheelchairs, with rest areas and handrails also included.
“We’ve done all we can to make it ADA friendly,” said Howe. “It’s a very positive thing, and it’s a shame that a few people have a problem with it.”