Commissioners voted this week to approve a $1.1 million contract for the construction of sidewalks along Ebenezer Road, which connects Sandy Plains and Blackwell roads.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents the northeast Cobb area in which Addison Elementary is located, said the sidewalks will run from the Oak Creek subdivision to Sandy Plains.
“I’ve walked with the students and the principal up Ebenezer from the subdivisions there up to the school, and there’s a huge gap where there are no sidewalks on either side of the street,” Birrell said. “There are a lot of children who could walk to school, and would walk to school, if there were sidewalks.”
Birrell said people in the area had been requesting sidewalks since before she joined the Board of Commissioners in 2011.
The county looked at a variety of factors when deciding to make the Ebenezer sidewalks a priority on the 2011 SPLOST list, she said.
“Connectivity, especially around schools, is a major factor we look at,” Birrell said.
She said the county submitted an application to receive grant funds from a state-run program called Safe Routes to School in an effort to make the path more walkable, but were denied.
The project later ended up on the county’s SPLOST list.
Laraine Vance, strategic planning and grant administrator for Cobb’s transportation department, said she applied to the Safe Routes to School program in 2009, after spending about a year surveying the area.
The federal government originally created the program to encourage elementary school students to walk and bike to school rather than get rides from their parents, Vance said, adding that the Georgia Department of Education manages the program.
“We were looking at safety, reducing congestion in the area, improving the air quality, those were the primary things,” Vance said of the factors Cobb DOT considered when applying for the state funds.
She said education is an important element of the Safe Routes program.
“In addition to working with that, as a component, you would educate kids about walking to school and help parents to know they don’t have to drive their kids to school,” Vance said. “There’s also a health component as well. They’re getting more physical activity.”
Earl Smith, former commission chairman, said he has “mixed feelings” about the number of sidewalk construction projects the county pursues.
“I know I have a problem with so much money for sidewalks,” Smith said. “Each district commissioner wants to demonstrate they want to do something for their district.”
He said sidewalk proposals find their way onto the SPLOST list for “political reasons.”
Smith noted there are some areas where sidewalks are necessary additions to the sides of heavily-walked roads.
“Most of the areas we’re talking about don’t fall into that category,” he said. “It’s very evident, if you live in these areas where the sidewalks are out in, all they do is cut the grass.”
Birrell said the “notice to proceed” allowing construction to begin should go out by the end of August or first of September.
She said the sidewalks should be completed after nine months.