Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau has been more excited than just about anyone about the opening this year of Grovetown Middle School. Its a project he sought for as much as 15 years, an effort that even led one prominent city resident to lobby for naming the school after the citys long-time mayor.
While the naming certainly would be a well-deserved honor, county policy prohibits naming schools after people. But if Trudeau can manage to build a sidewalk linking the heart of his city to the new school, he certainly should be allowed to name the walkway anything he wants.
This is a serious, legitimate public safety issue - not just for the middle-schoolers walking to and from school, but for motorists fearfully dodging children.
Early in the morning, its dark and there are no sidewalks and they are having to cross Harlem-Grovetown Road, which we know is dangerous, says Carolyn Fries, the schools principal. Dangerous is an understatement; Harlem-Grovetown Road has long been regarded as one of Columbia Countys deadliest roads, complete with an aptly-named Dead Mans Curve not far from the school.
The need for the half-mile sidewalk is obvious. Funding it must be a priority - especially if county officials are concerned about perceptions of fairness.
Far from Grovetown, on quiet Evans-to-Locks Road, is a wide ribbon of asphalt completed late last year. The bike path runs from the Savannah Rapids Pavilion to Stevens Creek Elementarys parking lot, and is scheduled to eventually continue all the way to the Evans Government Complex.
The Georgia Department of Transportation paid for most of the project; their rules require spending a portion of highway funds on alternate forms of transportation - primarily, sidewalks and bike paths.
Using sales-tax money set aside for use in Commission District 1, Columbia County chipped in 20 percent of the projects $455,000 cost; the next extension of the path, to Furys Ferry Road, will cost $169,000 from sales-tax funds.
Thats a lot of money. And because the bike path runs through one of the more affluent areas of Columbia County, it has been well-nigh impossible to squelch the belief that Peter in the countys rural areas hasnt been robbed to pay for Pauls path.
The perception of regional inequity in Columbia County has been around as long as the Martinez-Evans area has dominated the countys population. Thats unlikely to change; its hard to convince rural residents that it isnt unfair when most tax funds are spent where the majority of people are.
But when there are children imperiled every day by a walk to school on a dangerous road, while a luxurious bike path across town keeps leisure travelers far from vehicle traffic, that perception of unfairness becomes reality.
Fortunately, Mayor Trudeau says the cost for the project will likely be less than $50,000, with a substantial amount coming from the city. If county officials are at all concerned about perception, they shouldnt move another shovelful of dirt to extend the Evans bike path until those Grovetown kids have a safe way to walk to school.
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