Town leaders had good reason to smile as they gathered for a ceremony along Shepard School Road Friday morning.
They were there to break ground on the second and final phase of a sidewalk project that has faced numerous setbacks since it began in 2012. The town now has its sights on early spring for the project to be completed.
“It is satisfying that we can get construction going and the project completed,” said Chris Ray, Zebulon’s public works director. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re looking forward to seeing it put in.”
The new phase will complete a safe walkway between Zebulon Middle School and the Zebulon Boys & Girls Club. There used to be only a path – a just a few feet off the roadway – imprinted by those who walked to the club from school and the surrounding communities south of the highway.
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Before the 1,000-foot first phase was completed in February, 2015, spanning from the club across the bridge over U.S. 64/264, there was no protective fencing or designated walking space on the bridge. Crossing it on foot required walking along a narrow shoulder sandwiched between a lane of traffic and a concrete barrier.
“We just feel it’s an important project, like we have for years,” Ray said. “We want the kids to have a safe way to get from the middle school to the Boys & Girls Club and back and forth safely.”
The second phase calls for 875 linear feet of sidewalk and 580 linear feet of curb and gutter running from the bridge to the south, toward the middle school.
Commissioners showed their desire to complete the project when they included $32,000 for the second phase as part of this year’s budget. That amount is the town’s share of the $160,000 price tag, with the remainder coming by way of a federal Community Development Block Grant administered by Wake County.
The town originally planned to make the improvements in one fell swoop, but divided the project into two parts after the lowest construction bids came in over budget in August, 2014.
Prior to that, the project had already faced a funding shortfall resulting from special N.C. Department of Transportation requirements for the section crossing the bridge.
By the time planning began on the second phase, the town learned that portion of the project no longer qualified for CDBG funding because of new census data. The grant criteria factored in household income levels based on family size in the area the sidewalk would serve.
But town leaders disagreed with the data. Planning and public works staff and Wake County representatives went door-to-door surveying residents along Shepard School Road, Stronach Avenue, and Privette, Judd, Lee and Franklin streets in April, 2016.
The results showed 84 percent of the homes they surveyed were within the qualifying limits of the grant, making the second phase of the project eligible again for the funding.