Athens Has Eyes Set On Future Capital Improvements

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A list of potential capital improvements plans for the city over the next six years was presented to Athens City Council and city administration for input on Tuesday.

Andy Stone, director of the city’s department of engineering and public works, provided city officials with a draft of his six-year capital improvements plan, detailing several projects ranging from bridge repairs, water treatment plant upgrades, paving and utility line replacements.

The draft plan focuses on 51 projects throughout the city between 2015 and 2020. Some significant projects include congestion, pedestrian and pavement improvements on East State Street (estimated to cost around $3 million); a waterline replacement on Dairy Lane; Athens Mall waterline replacement; West Union Street sidewalk extension (from Herrold Avenue to the bike path); brick pavement rehab on Park Place and South Court Street; and constructing a connector road from the top of Carriage Hill Drive to North Blackburn Road.

Another big project listed in the plan is for Stimson Avenue to receive a facelift, including sidewalk improvements, decorative lighting and burying of overhead utility lines. Waterline replacement is also slated for the project, which is estimated to cost around $5 million. There’s also discussion of a possible roundabout at the intersection of Stimson and the Mill Street Apartments access road. The plan lists 2017 as the date for the endeavor.

There are also plans to build a through connection to South Lancaster Street (in place of existing stairs) from Depot Street (near West Union).

“The goal of this project would be to alleviate some of the cut through traffic in residential neighborhoods in western Athens, (including) improving safety on Central by West Elementary School, which is the current major cut through route,” the plan states. The project is expected to cost $500,000 and take place in 2019.

Stone told those in attendance that the Ohio Department of Transportation is leaning toward building a full diverging diamond interchange on East State Street near the Route 33 and Route 50 ramps. A second proposal would have involved construction of another Route 33 onramp west toward Columbus. That onramp would have cut through property owned by Athens County Children Services. Stone said that children services has expressed its opposition to such a proposal.

The purpose of the diverging diamond interchange is to get more traffic through the lights at the intersection to prevent vehicles from backing up on the ramps and onto the highway. Councilman Steve Patterson said if traffic is flowing quicker on East State, he’d like to see more traffic calming devices used on the heavily traveled business corridor. He said people already speed through the 25 mph zone as is.

There was also discussion about funding mechanisms for some of the proposed projects. Stone said that Athens could become ineligible for the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant Program after the 2020 Census. He said that Athens will likely have a population over 25,000, which no longer classified as a “small city.”

The total estimated cost for the construction projects laid out in the plan is $33,890,000, of which $22,845,110 would be needed from grants, tax or rate increases.

Stone talked about the city’s utility rates compared to other municipalities in the state and region and said that Athens’ sewer rates are a “bargain.” A household that uses 7,756 gallons a year is estimated to pay $473 per year in sewer rates and $385 per year for water in Athens. The state median is $541 for sewer and $513 for water.

In Athens County, Athens has the cheapest water and sewer rates. The average annual sewer costs in the region are as follows: Nelsonville, $631; Chauncey, $941; Trimble, $646; Amesville, $871 and Amesville, $1,015.

For water customers, the average annual cost is: Nelsonville, $746; Chauncey, $653; Glouster, $813; Tuppers Plains, $513; and Le-ax, $793.

Because Athens’ water and sewer rates are so low when compared to surrounding communities, Stone said there’s room to increase those fees if necessary.

Athens City Council and the administration will continue to review the draft capital improvements plan and provide feedback to Stone. He said he hopes to have a final draft in place by October.