Tuesday, February 21, 2012

EDITORIAL >> It’s one dig after another

A perfect example of governmental good intentions gone wrong may be Jacksonville’s Graham Road widening project, which seemed a good idea 10 years ago when the project was designed to cross the railroad tracks at Graham and allow traffic to proceed up First Street to heavily trafficked Hwy. 67/167 and Vandenberg Boulevard and on to the air base.

As it happened, the project was stymied, possibly by special interests, but now the project has been declared shovel ready. Federal funding is available through Metroplan, and Graham Road is being rerouted down residential Oak Street in Jacksonville’s Sunnyside addition and on to the Main Street bridge overpass.

The widening will add two lanes to Graham Road between Loop Road and the Oak Street. The low bid for the 1.14-mile-long project was submitted by Township Builders for $3,350,500.

Federal stimulus money is paying for 80 percent of the project, while the city is footing the rest of the bill.

As the widening proceeds, it becomes apparent that the big losers are Sunnyside residents, who not only are losing much of their yards to easement and right-of-way but also their driveway parking spaces.

It seems to be a case of adding blight to an already blighted neighborhood.

Perhaps additional sidewalks will ease some of the burden for pedestrians who number quite a few. But for now, those who dare to walk are often consigned to walking in the street, trying to avoid traffic, piles of mud and dirty water. At night, you’re taking your life in your own hands, what with traffic, mud and poorly lit streets.

Near the railroad tracks at Graham Road, a huge utility project has compromised driveways, torn up parking lots and interrupted sewer and water service. That project could be wrapped up in the next few weeks, but then the widening begins and, weather permitting, that will take at least a year.

A groaning chasm from that utility work on Graham at Oak Street poses safety hazards not only to traffic and pedestrians but also to the contractor’s employees who wear yellow, reflective safety vests but are often on the street without the benefit of orange cones. At night the pit at the edge of the road is ringed with sagging orange netting, which anyone or any vehicle could easily fall through.

In the meantime, parents worry about their children who may be walking on Graham Road to get to their friends or a grandparent’s house or perhaps to the Boys and Girls Club.

Thanks to the prescience of the Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville Elementary, the remaining neighborhood school for Sunnyside, closed last June, and there are no longer hordes of school children walking home from school. Foot traffic is mostly confined to pedestrians and a few wheelchair occupants traversing the overpass to make purchases, such as groceries from Knight’s or supplies from Walgreens. Still some children walk home from the middle school and the charter school.

Some brave pedestrians still cross the tracks at Graham, although a large pile of mud makes that difficult and it is also illegal. Those pedestrians, if caught, are ticketed but a few students from the charter school have been known to make the dangerous crossing.

Sunnyside has become something of a Jacksonville suburb largely cut off from commerce. The Korean-owned catfish and fried rice restaurant, 7-Eleven and laundromat, which once served the neighborhood, are long gone since the crossing was closed.

Residents have asked for a timeline and for additional safety measures for themselves and for their children. They want to know when the holes in their yards and big piles of dirt all over the street will be gone.

Says one Graham Road resident, “I live there and for at least three weeks now, and for the third time, there is a huge, deep hole dug beside my fence, and as far as I can tell, no one has done anything there since they dug it out. I would love to be able to find some kind of timeline on the project and maybe even a notice of when they will be moving my fence. I have two dogs in my yard and several times there have been workers in my yard when I have been at work…In the morning when I leave for work, there are kids walking down the middle of Graham Road to avoid the piles of mud, not a great situation on a cold, dark morning.”

In the meantime, city engineer Jay Whisker says he can be contacted about safety issues, cleanup or other concerns. He promised that if he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he will find out. He says he’s ready to hear your complaints. Do call.