A city can make a first impression in many ways. Sometimes, it’s not what a person sees or hears, or even smells, that leaves the most lasting mark. Sometimes it comes down to how a city feels.
For example, if a city feels like the thud, thud, thud of potholes, chip seal and cracked pavement, that says something about it.
To newcomers who may come to Decatur looking for a place to live, work and raise a family, it says this is a city that isn’t taking care of the bare basics. So, as Decatur prepares to attract new residents who will be moving to north Alabama to work at the new Toyota-Mazda automotive plant in Limestone County, it’s vital the city provide a smoother ride for anyone driving through town to look at prospective neighborhoods and schools.
Beautification is important, but all the beautification efforts the city undertakes will deliver little if people leave town with their wheels needing realignment.
That said, the City Council seems to be tackling street paving with a new and welcome sense of urgency.
The council will vote Monday on 18 repaving projects costing a total of about $1.4 million.
The council could add more projects to the list after details of a proposed bond issue are hammered out, but that awaits cost projections of the long-delayed Spring Avenue Southwest widening project.
“What we’re waiting on is the bids being let on Spring Avenue,” Councilman Chuck Ard said. “Not that we’re expecting an overrun on Spring Avenue, but we want to be safe and not commit those (bond) funds until we know they truly are available.”
Widening Spring Avenue is one of many road projects sucking up scarce road funding. New schools that need new roads and new retail developments that need new roads also compete for some of that money.
Maintaining existing roads isn’t as politically sexy, so it too often takes a back seat to starting new projects — and sometimes that cannot be helped. New schools and new retail demand new streets. Major thoroughfares, however, can get by only so long with chip-sealed cracks and potholes. Compare the smooth ride on the widened state Department of Transportation-maintained Beltline to the ka-chunk ka-chunk ride of most of the city-maintained streets that feed into the Beltline, and night vs. day doesn’t seem a strong enough contrast.
The city’s priorities haven’t been the only issue, however. Contractors’ inability to undertake projects in a timely manner is a problem, too.
Ard said he wants assurance from contractors that all the road projects on the city’s new list will be completed this fiscal year. He said the city will take steps that “allow us to be able to hold a contractor accountable for delivering these roads during the time period we want them done. … That is the expectation, that all of these will be done in this fiscal year.”
Decatur has many challenges when it comes to attracting new residents, including improving schools and encouraging housing developments. But those are, admittedly, complex issues.
Paving doesn’t come cheap, but it is simple. A bump-free ride isn’t going to make an impression on potential residents, but a bumpy ride will. So before Decatur can focus on making a good first impression, it must avoid making a bad first impression.
The city’s current residents, traveling to and fro to work, school and home, will appreciate having their shock absorbers do less work, too.