Roads plan haunts the city
The editorial board met last week with the the key engineers involved in Macon's roads project and one political leader. Included were Tom Moreland and Van Etheridge of Moreland Altobelli, county engineer Bob Fountain, and Bibb commission chairman Larry Justice. They came at Fountain's suggestion following a meeting we held with about a dozen neighborhood groups the previous week.
Both Moreland and Fountain stressed that they had learned a lot from the overwhelmingly negative reaction of neighborhood groups to many aspects of the city's roads program. Moreland's firm has been accused of trying to wall off public discussion and debate in its citizen's meetings and of manipulating the agenda of some of those meetings. And that's the short list.
At one point in the meeting, Justice suggested that the engineers have been subjected to unfair criticism. I agree with him. City and county political leaders deserve the prize for lack of leadership in this process if anyone does.
But Justice maintained that they had properly advertised, including in this publication, all aspects of the planning process. And he was critical of some neighborhood groups for not singing from the same page. He mentioned the Ingleside neighborhood specifically. "We cannot get a consensus as to what they want," he said.
Asked to explain, he said that some members of the neighborhood groups on various projects like sidewalks. Others do not, perhaps fearing the foot traffic might come from undesirables. If true, the neighborhood groups must achieve a consensus on issues such as sidewalks and stick together.
One overall criticism of the roads plan is that the city doesn't need such ambitious road widths and numbers of lanes. But Fountain counters that these projects are intended to meet transportation needs as far out as 20 years into the future. But, he added, "We may have been a little too pro-active here."
It's a common belief among some neighborhood activists that the engineers added so much gingerbread to the plans in order to leverage the maximum amount non-local tax-paid support. Moreland denied that this drove their thinking in framing the projects, although it taken into consideration.
This discussion remains ongoing, with the neighborhood groups working diligently to provide input and the engineers appear eager to be as accommodating as possible. While their remarks were tinged with quite a lot of defensiveness, they would like to get a workable plan together and get started.
I'd like to call your attention to a piece on this page by Dan Fischer, a faculty member at Mercer with experience in urban planning. He has faulted city and county leaders for not taking more of a leadership role in overall planning. "They (political leaders) should never have let this become an engineering-driven process."
It's too strong to say that engineers are unmindful of the overall needs and desires of a community, but, in Fischer's words: "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
The engineers, taken alone, are among the best the city could have gotten. I think that if they had had the benefit of greater and much closer oversight by more political and community leaders at the earliest stages, we would not have had all the rancor. As Fischer put it: "It's really unfair to the technical staff at the city and county and Moreland Altobelli to have taken all this grief."
Where to go from here?
The Telegraph is determined to do what it can to facilitate debate. But it does seem clear that the county commission, which must approve every project, should realize that fundamental changes need to be made in order to satisfy the majority of neighborhood complaints. The biggest mistake they could make at this point would be to assume that they only have a public relations problem.
After all, Frankenstein wasn't just a PR nightmare.
Ron Woodgeard, editorial page editor, can be contacted at Woodgeard@aol.com, call 744-4319, or write P.O. Box 4167, Macon, 31213.