Public Works: A smoother road for Vista Grove
If you joined us for our December informational meeting, you took part in a great discussion about public works, specifically roads, drainage systems and sidewalks — in a potential city of Vista Grove. Right now, we have an historic opportunity to invest in, repair, and build out this important infrastructure in our community.
Cities operate in designated service areas. For Vista Grove, those would include parks and recreation, roads and drainage, police protection, and planning and zoning. Other services would continue to be handled by the county.
Roads and drainage services would also include pavement maintenance and repaving, and sidewalk repair and construction. Stormwater systems maintenance, an important aspect of that, is paid via a separate dedicated fee.
As a city, Vista Grove would be able to focus solely on keeping the roads in our area paved, including preventative maintenance. Right now, there are a large number of deferred maintenance projects across DeKalb. 2014 Transportation Plan “In recent years, over 300 miles of streets have been identified as needing resurfacing each year, but funding programs available through GDOT and the county, along with bond programs have been insufficient, funding only 10-20% of the miles in need of repair.”
Pavement preservation — as opposed to simply addressing repairs when they are needed — is cost-effective, saving later dollars on rehabilitation. 2014 DTS. Maintenance deferred for too long builds risk of hazardous conditions and more expensive rehabilitation.
If you have observed the paving projects, as well as sidewalk construction, in neighboring cities, you have seen rapid progress in working through paving backlog and in new sidewalk construction.
How have these cities been able to move so quickly? Through the judicious use of public-private partnership — having privatized and professional contractors bid to handle these services. Services are thereby delivered professionally from conception, by subject matter experts. This approach, used most recently by Tucker, permits immediate readiness, rapid deployment of staff and resources, and reduces expenditure of capital in the start-up phase.
In turn, this is helping cities and the county as a whole. We know cities do not exist in isolation. Cities coexist and partner with the county. They work with other cities, and they work with regional and state stakeholders on subject matter areas like transit. The sharing of service delivery between counties and cities — the city-county partnership — is creating success countywide. When cities to handle these aspects of public works, it frees up time, money, and resources for the county.
Brookhaven, which provides road maintenance for its citizens, has a proactive road paving program. It engages contractors to assess all city streets every four years, prioritizing a pavement condition index that looks at conditions and traffic volume. Based on this assessment, the city has in place a five-year street paving capital program.
Tucker, too, has been able to address roads using their dedicated SPLOST funds. They started with a detailed study, and hired a contractor to drive and survey every road in the city. Once this data was collected, the city council approved a contract to have a paving and concrete contractor do repair work for fiscal year 2019, along with a separate engineering and inspections contract. City Council Wrap Up, June 11, 2018
Sidewalks are another critical piece of a long-term infrastructure plan for Vista Grove. We should work toward having sidewalks on both sides of all major roads and within all school walking zones, i.e., those areas within one mile of schools.
Certainly, this is a safety issue. A 2014 transportation study of the county noted that 60 percent of crashes occur within ½ mile of a school. For crashes involving pedestrians, 75 percent of them occurred along roadways with no median and 81 percent of them were on roadways with speed limits between 35 and 45 mph. (2014 DTS, Needs Assessment Page 9.) Those conditions can and should be addressed.
Beyond safety, a sidewalk network plays an important role in building community. When we can safety and easily walk to playgrounds, retail areas, and parks, more of us will be using our public spaces and have the kinds of personal interactions that make a community great.
A Walkable/Bikable Community
We can also begin the gradual design and update of our roadways into smart streets, that integrate these sidewalks, along with bike lanes and the right safety and access features for pedestrians. Even smaller additions like tree plantings for shade and judicious placement of benches, when handled thoughtfully, can improve the aesthetics and encourage use of non-vehicle alternatives.
And then imagine the opportunities for recreation, fitness, and quality of life enhancement when we connect our sidewalk network to a Vista Grove Greenway, building out our own multi-use trail system between the South and North Fork Peachtree Creek trails and then to the emerging regional trail system.
With the energy, proactive planning and resources of our own city, we can revitalize our aging physical infrastructure — including, roads, stormwater systems, and missing connections like sidewalks — and build those out to get us ready for the future. It is time to get started on making Vista Grove a truly connected, walkable and bikeable community, one with safe and smart streets. It is both a short-term and and long-term investment, and one that can make our community stronger than ever.
The good news is that an engaged citizenry, with the right resources and civic platform to amplify their efforts, can create incredible change. We have seen that happen in the cities that have formed around us, both older ones like Chamblee, and newer ones, like Tucker and Brookhaven. Preserving the good and becoming the thriving, connected community we want to be, requires some change. Cities are helping drive that change, and with the voice and concentrated energy, planning and resources that a city would give us, Vista Grove can, too.