CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF
MARBLE FALLS — The rising estimated cost of a two-block sidewalk project just off Main Street has raised questions about priorities and safety as pedestrians would have to cross a busy highway.
Marble Falls City Council members approved contracting with M&C Fonseca Construction Co., Inc., on the Second Street sidewalk project March 17 with four members voting for the project and one voting against.
Council members Reed Norman and Richard Lewis were absent.
The sidewalk project, adjacent to a two-story retail development, is expected to connect a business and the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center on the east side of U.S. 281 with the Main Street Historic District on the west side of the highway.
The original estimated cost of the project increased from about $75,000 to $116,000, officials say.
“One is that we changed the scope of the project — since we’re going to go ahead and bid it out, we went ahead and added street lighting to it — and then the other thing that changed on us is that the cost of concrete went up,” City Manager Mike Hodge said. “The development is bringing in some additional (private) parking that didn’t exist before. There are about four (city right-of-way) paces that go away, but we’re still striping and putting in as many as we can.”
Funding will come from the city’s capital improvement program funds, designated for downtown improvement.
“We’re only $56,000 over budget, and nobody seems to have a problem with it. Where in the city do you see sidewalks now? We don’t even have sidewalks around most of our schools, and we’re going to build $116,000 sidewalk to nowhere,” said Councilman Raymond Whitman, who voted against the project. “When I pressed that point, I was told that we need to be able to get people from the visitors center and the Blue Bonnet (Cafe) to Main Street.”
Councilman Ryan Nash voted for the project. His company, Nash Builders, is contracting with the developers on the retail building at the intersection of Second Street and U.S. 281.
“(These are) city funds that were designated for downtown improvement, so it’s not like we were taking from street improvements on the north end of town,” Nash said. “Downtown improvements have been a long-term goal of the city council, and that project is an important piece of that plan.
“It will improve the appearance, and it will make it more pedestrian friendly in that area,” he added.
The city manager said work such as the sidewalk are part of the downtown re-development plan to make improvements to that district’s infrastructure to promote and attract businesses.
“Those new businesses come into town, things are built. We’re generating more tax revenue,” Hodge said.
Whitman believes the impetus of the sidewalk lacks long-term planning considerations.
“Somebody has some grandiose idea that this is going to eliminate all our ills. We’re going to recreate Main Street. We’re going to make it a destination,” Whitman said. “My question is how many people go to the visitors center every day that are going to walk to Main Street. I would hazard a guess at zero.
“The majority of people who are going to go from Main Street to Blue Bonnet are going to drive,” he added.
Nash said the sidewalk will complement pending projects and will attract pedestrian traffic.
“We’re working on a new downtown signage project to draw people into the downtown area. That’s a pretty big gateway into the downtown,” he said. “(The) 281 (intersection) is a busy street, but there is a crosswalk there that was recently installed as part of the 281 bridge project, so that pedestrian sidewalk will lead to that crosswalk area.
You want to encourage people to do that,” Nash added.
Whitman expressed safety concerns.
“One of things I asked of the council is how do they expect to get these people across the highway without getting them killed, and I never got an answer,” he said. “All I can tell people is if you’re planning on crossing 281, make sure your life insurance is paid up.”
Hodge believes the intersection is safe for foot traffic.
“Pedestrian crossing is well-marked. It has a signal light that’s associated with it,” he said. “I haven’t heard of any accidents, any issues as far as any pedestrians being hurt or hit.”
Whitman would like the city to focus on other areas of infrastructure citywide.
“I don’t think the priorities are right,” Whitman said. “We’ve got water and wastewater issues, our streets are crumbling, so $116,000 is certainly not going to do a lot for street repair, but it would certainly be a start.”