When Columbia County commissioners settle on a new policy for blocking streets for races, parades and other gatherings, I hope it’s with a light hand.
Fortunately, commissioners seem inclined to head in that direction after county staffers proposed rules that would be a little heavier.
If you aren’t familiar with the discussion, basically it comes down to this: Something needs to be done so people who organize fundraiser footraces can understand that blocking a road is a bigger deal that just asking a cop to direct traffic.
When someone puts together an event that requires, say, closure of Belair Road – as with this Saturday’s Shine Your Light 5K at West Town Community Church – it first requires permission from the Georgia Department of Transportation. They have a specific window for those requests; you have to ask no more than four weeks, and no less than two weeks, before the event, says Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson.
But when the DOT gives its approval, they don’t take care of the actual closure. That’s up to the county. Whatever the DOT approves, the county has to implement – with traffic engineers finding out what’s needed to close the route, notifying the public through the media and electronic signs, and with crews putting out markers or traffic cones and posting deputies where needed.
All of those are county workers, paid by taxpayers. And until now, they’d all provided that labor at the expense of all taxpayers, but for the specific benefit of the race organizers and their chosen charity.
Look at it this way: A county Roads and Bridges truck won’t bring you a load of dirt for free. Why should you expect those workers to block off a county road so you can hold a fundraiser?
In addition to the cost, these events can be terrifically inconvenient for those paying the bills. I certainly heard plenty of complaints from people out in Appling who felt trapped at their homes while roads were blocked for the Best Dam Ride charity bike race.
Certainly, then, charities need to be prepared to pay more of the share of the actual expense for their event without just riding free on the backs of taxpayers. At the same time, the county doesn’t need to go overboard with bureaucratic requirements – especially when many of the well-meaning fundraisers are likely to be driven out of the philanthropy business by too much red tape.
My suggestion: The county should prepackage a list of routes and have those and their costs available for organizers. At the top of the list should be routes that don’t include streets at all, such as Savannah Rapids or Blanchard Woods Park.
That way, those fledgling organizers can avoid blocking streets and the charges that go with it – or know up front that they’ll have to pay for stopping traffic.
Problem solved. Race on.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/