ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Amid a still-shaky economy, city officials have begun identifying big-ticket items Alpharetta can afford to tackle with money it still has on hand.
At a special work session held in December, the City Council discussed major road projects with Public Works Director Pete Sewczwicz in an effort to prioritize those that can deliver the best bang for the buck. Alpharetta’s 2021 budget year ends June 30, and there remains millions in unspent money, part of it the city has suspended because of the pandemic economy.
The city does have money outside normal sources. The special transportation sales tax passed by voters in 2016 entitles the city to millions in funds that must be spent on projects that were listed on the ballot. Outside of those projects, however, the city carries out upgrades to streets, sidewalks and trails with mostly its own money.
To spur discussion, each of the seven council members ranked projects in the pipeline and came up with a list divided into three tiers.
Tops on the list are $10 million for milling and resurfacing work on city streets. Alpharetta follows a regular schedule of resurfacing to keep streets maintained at a determined level. Skipping a year, engineers say, can lead to long-term problems in the road’s foundation and end up creating a greater expense.
City leaders also prioritized $5 million to sidewalk repair.
A mid-block crosswalk at Alpharetta Elementary School, estimated at $50,000, was the only other project to receive unanimous consent as a top priority project among the council.
Councilman Jason Binder asked that a crosswalk at Manning Oaks Elementary be moved up for quick funding, even though the work may require altering when planned upgrades to Cumming Street occur in the coming years.
“I’m OK with investing $100,000 for safety for the school kids,” Binder said.
Other projects listed in the top tier, with funding called for in the future, included $9.2 million for construction of the Alpha Loop from Old Milton Parkway to Northwinds Parkway and major upgrades to the North Point Parkway corridor with long-term costs — aided by federal funding — running over $20 million.
One of the pricier projects in the second tier is work on the Cumming Street streetscape. Sewczwicz pointed out that the project is in its earliest phases, and the $10 million estimate is a guess.
“Basically, we do not know the final scope; we do not know the right-of-way concerns,” he said. “We haven’t had a formal vetting of that project, formal design — in fact even a formal discussion.”
Sewczwicz said more details about how the project can begin will be forthcoming at the council retreat in late January.
The council was divided on whether to prioritize a $100,000 pedestrian scramble signal that would stop all traffic at Canton Street and Milton Avenue to allow foot traffic through the intersection. Proponents said pedestrian safety will become more important soon with the opening of the new STEM school and a hotel in the next year.
Opponents say the current signal system will continue to work well, and that the traffic problems created by stopping vehicles in all directions will create a nightmare.
City officials may be strapped for money in the coming year.
Finance Director Tom Harris said he expects commercial properties to take a hit in value over the next year, which could likely result in less revenue. He said he expects increases in residential values to make up the difference, however.
Harris said he’s optimistic about the resale and new construction of residential properties.
Still, Harris said, he’d like to see the city recover enough to commit more of its end-of-year surplus to road maintenance. Last year, the city had just enough to commit just under $500,000 in surplus to the expense. Harris said the city commonly places closer to $5 million each year toward milling and resurfacing.