A lengthy discussion at Monday’s city council meeting ultimately resulted in a 6-1 vote in favor of traffic improvements that are 17 years in the making.
Smyrna city council voted to make a contribution not exceeding $35,000 for a traffic signal and intersection improvements at Gaylor Street and East-West Connector. According to the city maps and website, the intersection is in the city limits, but Gaylor Street is not, nor is the nearby Estates at Ellis Wade Park neighborhood whose residents would be using the new traffic signal from Gaylor Street.
Eric Taylor, Smyrna’s city administrator, said that the total cost of the project is $255,694.94 with developers contributing $150,000, Cobb County contributing $70,694.94 and Smyrna contributing $35,000.
The story begins in 1994 when the intersection improvement project was slated as part of that year’s SPLOST. Dan McDuff, Cobb County Department of Transportation’s deputy director, told The Marietta Daily Journal last month that it was eventually included in the 2005 SPLOST, which is where the county’s funding for the project will come from.
Fast forward to 2011 and Cobb County is ready to set the project in motion. The item appeared on the agenda at the November 22 meeting of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, but was tabled by Commissioner Bob Ott who represents the area. At the meeting Ott explained that he wanted to seek a contribution from the .
Enter Wade Lnenicka, Smyrna’s Ward 6 council member, who raised several issues with this proposal. He and the council first learned about this issue in October when Mayor Max Bacon received a letter from Faye DiMassimo, director of the Cobb Department of Transportation, asking that the city contribute $73,721.04 for the intersection improvements.
Lnenicka said that city staff’s repeated requests for a detailed cost analysis of the project were unreturned and that the reported cost of the project has fluctuated since October.
“The intersection is at two county roads,” Lnenicka said at Monday’s meeting. “The intersection is outside the city limits. The signals that they’re installing will be county-owned and operated and no city funds are budgeted for this.
"No funds have been set aside for this expense. On the issue sheet we have in our documents tonight, there is no funding source identified. There has been verbal discussion about where those funds can come from, but we have not had a chance to specifically identify those sources and fund it.’’
Gaylor Street leads into the Estates at Ellis Wade Park neighborhood that consists of 54 plots, all of them in unincorporated Cobb. In addition to those residents, many motorists from the busy Publix Highland Station shopping center exit by way of Gaylor Street.
Currently there is just a stop sign at the intersection and motorists must turn right on the E-W Connector. Across the street from Highland Station a new state-of-the-art RaceTrac is being built.
“No Cobb city has ever paid for a traffic signal outside their city boundaries to my knowledge,’’ chimed Lnenicka, and I’ve been at this post for 24 years and no one can cite any examples at the county where that has occurred. Despite repeated requests starting in October for detailed cost breakdowns, none were provided until the very last minute after the item was placed on the agenda without a chance for city staff to vet that information. There was no time for city staff to review the cost estimates, to discuss them or negotiate them or for the council to even discuss them. And again if you go back to Oct. 26, $223,721.04, then it goes to $255,694.94 and then it goes to $298,066.88 and tonight it’s back to $255,694.94."
But not all the council members agreed with Lnenicka. Mike McNabb, Ward 4 council member, chastised Lnenicka for speaking with the MDJ instead of talking over the issues with other council members.
“(City of Smyrna and Cobb County) staffs could have negotiated this between our staffs, but one council member decided to talk to the newspaper about this,” he said. “Now clearly he did not identify that he was speaking for the entire council, but because he spoke to the newspaper, it was removed from the staff negotiation level and has now become a political issue that was put before this body. The mayor has brought it to us because it was escalated out of the staff level of negotiation to the political level. So we have no choice tonight but to vote up or down on this policy.”
Teri Anulewicz, Ward 3 council member, disagreed with Lnenicka’s assertion that Smyrna residents would be paying for the intersection improvements twice.
“The way I see it, we’re contributing 15 percent of that,” she said. “I don’t necessarily see this as Smyrna taxpayers paying twice, I see it as, because we do pay county taxes and city taxes, I see it as a portion; an 85 percent/15 percent kind of thing.”
But ultimately the motion passed because of concerns for public safety. Several council members, including Lnenicka, raised issues with the safety of the intersection, but Bacon said it best.
“This is a $35,000 expenditure that will come out of the SPLOST money,” he said. “It’s well-spent money (…) But it’s also a safety issue. If one life is lost down there, whether it’s a county resident or a city resident, it’s a life.”
The improvements should begin construction in January.