One new sidewalk, running 0.4 miles on Pete Shaw Road in northeast Cobb, will serve both Lassiter and Rocky Mount. The other is a tenth of a mile stretch on South Gordon Road in south Cobb, which leads to Riverside. Both projects were approved unanimously by the board.
“These sidewalks are part of our Safe Routes to School program,” said Jim Wilgus, deputy director of the Cobb County Department of Transportation. “Within a certain distance from a school zone these are to help students be able to walk to school.”
The Pete Shaw Road sidewalk contract was awarded to Glosson Enterprises, the low bidder at a cost of $347,632.19. Glosson will also install the South Gordon Road sidewalks, beating out six other bidders with a price of $123,316.31.
The projects are being paid for with a 1 percent sales tax voters approved in 2011. The Cobb DOT has a priority system for new sidewalks. Sidewalks near schools come first, sidewalks that fill gaps between existing paths are second and third are regular, requested sidewalks.
Wilgus estimated the two newest sidewalk paths will break ground in the next two or three weeks. The Pete Shaw Road sidewalk should take 180 days to build, while South Gordon should take 120 days.
Cobb District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb including Pete Shaw Road, said sidewalks provide a big benefit to the county.
“Schools are a priority because this makes it safer for the kids,” she said. “We’re also getting ready to start a project at Addison Elementary on Ebenezer Road, which is in my district.”
A needed improvement?
But not everyone agrees the sidewalks are worthwhile. Earl Smith, a former county commission chairman and namesake of the Earl Smith Strand Theatre, is an outspoken critic of the sidewalks, calling them a waste of taxpayer dollars.
He says the original purpose of the special purpose local option sales tax was to build roads and get people through the county.
“You can see how far away this is from what the initial intent was,” he said. “Look at the sidewalks that have been built, the fabulous bicycle trails throughout the county. Look and see how many people are riding them. Then we have to maintain them. Where are the people that are using these? They’re not using them. By and large they are not being used and we keep adding to them. Every year we stack them on because we’re trying to get the vote where we promised a sidewalk.”
But Birrell says the sidewalks get plenty of use. She walks the routes herself on Safe Routes to School Day.
“There is no sidewalk on the same side of the street as Addison for a few blocks down from the school,” she said. “When I’d walk with the kids, it’s like you’re walking in a ditch. It’s just not conducive or safe for those kids to walk to school from neighboring subdivisions without sidewalks.”
The commissioners meet with the Cobb DOT each year to look at where to install new sidewalks.