Safe access for pedestrians continues to be a priority in the Town of Friendly People.
Zebulon staff has five sidewalk projects on its radar for upcoming years, including one along East Stronach Avenue and North Whitley Street it has already submitted for grant funding.
The pending project is estimated to cost about $130,000. It consists of 1,165 feet of sidewalk – 260 on Whitley Street from Stronach Avenue to the south, and 905 feet on Stronach connecting Whitley Park to Shepard School Road.
Town officials are hoping for 100 percent funding from the Safe Routes to School grant program, which is administered by the N.C. Department of Transportation. To be considered for that grant, however, projects must first be approved for an 80-20 matching grant through the DOT’s Strategic Planning Office of Transportation.
“It’s two different pots of money and levels of funding through the same entity,” Zebulon Planning Director Mark Hetrick said. “Last I saw, the Stronach (Avenue) project was listed as No. 8 out of 21 projects for SPOT funding. Of those 21 projects, I just don’t know how many SPOT projects are applying or going to be considered for Safe Routes grants.”
Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny voiced his concerns about the town’s possible financial obligation at an annual meeting of town leaders on Feb. 25. As Zebulon begins preparing another tight budget, he said he wants to know the town will receive 100 percent funding before committing to the project.
“We get out there committing all this money, and it’s easy to do until the bill gets to you,” Matheny said.
Hetrick said it is likely to be January of 2015 before the town finds out which ones will receive full funding through the Safe Routes grant.
“For next year’s budget, worst case, you put in 20 percent funds based on the project cost,” Hetrick said. “Best case, you get funded 100 percent and you don’t have to come up with that 20 percent.”
While it seems Zebulon is wagering a 20 percent commitment – or about $26,000 – in hopes of winning a zero-obligation grant, Hetrick said the opposite is taking place.
The town typically seeks 80-20 matching Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to help pay for similar projects. The DOT way, which will take the place of a CDBG project this coming year, at least makes 100 percent funding a possibility.
The East Stronach Avenue and North Whitley Street project was originally ranked No. 4 on Zebulon’s list of projects to be submitted for CDBG funding over the next five years. It became the top priority for the 2015 fiscal year because of the unique grant opportunity through DOT.
All the sidewalk projects involve areas of heavy foot traffic for families and students, increasing the need for safe access. The rest of the projects in the top 5 are:
Zebulon has been participating with the CDBG program since 1993 and has received nearly $3.8 million in funding.