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Partial funding available for St. Louis Avenue lighting project

(Jan. 18, 2012) The City Council held off this week on committing to installing decorative street lighting — although partial funding from the state is available — on the current rebuild of St. Louis Avenue, with further information and likely a final decision to be presented at the next council work session.

What likely has to be weighed is the future commitment of the city to installing similar lighting on the latter phases of the street renovation project.

“I think it would look rather awkward if you only did one phase,” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins.

The current phase covers the avenue from 17th Street down to 10th Street. The second phase, according to Adkins, will stretch from 10th down to Fourth Street, and the third and final phase will constitute the section below Fourth.

Adkins had originally believed that it would be possible to complete more than one phase between seasons, but said at this week’s meeting that the schedule will likely be one phase per off-season.

As first proposed, the improvement plan for the thoroughfare included extensive decorative lights, sidewalk expansions and even a traffic circle. Most of this was axed last spring, however, due to budgetary constraints. As a result, Adkins suggested that the city go ahead and install underground electrical conduit so that future improvements in lighting could be made.

“The end result [of the cuts] was to at least put the underground electrical conduit in place to avoid disturbing the road at a later date,” Adkins said.

Over the summer, however, the Ocean City Development Corporation — the city-backed nonprofit organization that sponsors downtown revitalization projects — applied for state funding of up to $150,000 for street improvements, with the intent of putting better lights on St. Louis.

The fixtures to be used are an updated version of the traditional lamppost, with a single, straight column topped by an enclosed glass fixture. However, they are crafted out of spun concrete, and feature LED lighting technology.

“I think you’ve seen, in other areas of the town … a remarkable amount of private development once those improvements from the city are in,” said OCDC President Bob Givarz. “I think the city is going to realize a lot in tax dollars.”

This week, OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said the state had granted $50,000 of the request, and that OCDC would further be able to transfer another $25,000 from its small business fund.

Given the 30 lights that will be needed, Adkins estimated the cost for the first phase to be $154,000, meaning “you’re looking at roughly a $79,000 hole” for the current budget year.

Although Irwin said it was OCDC’s intent to continue to request the funding for the next two phases of the project, state grants cannot be guaranteed in advance. In Adkins’ estimation, the total for light fixtures on all three phases will be $390,000, meaning the city could be committing to $315,000 out of its own pocket if funding is not granted in subsequent years.

“I don’t see it being a phase one funding issue,” Adkins said. “But, come phase two, Glenn might not be here [with state money].”

Council members weighed the worth of committing to three years of cost to a project that had already been massively scaled back.

“My whole concern is that, if we have the money for phase one, then we’re committed to phase two and phase three,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight.

Councilman Dennis Dare also voiced concern that the compromises made to the sidewalk improvements could jeopardize the lights themselves. Despite the original plan to re-engineer the street with 8-foot wide sidewalks, the current cost-reduced plans call for simply replacing the existing 5-foot sidewalks where needed.

This means that, in some places, the street may continue to have low-height sidewalks, where the vertical face of the concrete adjacent to the road pavement is less than the desired eight-inch minimum.

“The reason you go with eight or nine inches is so it’s not mountable, so that a car tire isn’t going to go up and hit the [light] pole,” Dare said. “If you’re going to put them in, the sidewalks need to be proper. I didn’t realize [the project] had been value-engineered down to a bare minimum.”

Further, Dare noted, if sidewalks are to be brought to their ideal height at a later time, this would necessitate a change in the elevation of the light posts, creating more redundant work. He suggested that the lights instead be installed on the inside of the sidewalks, away from the curb, to reduce the height effect and also to create more distance between the lights and potential errant vehicles.

Adkins agreed to come back with more information on Dare’s points regarding curb height and light placement as soon as possible so that a decision could be made.

“If I can pull it off, I’d like to be back before you next Tuesday,” Adkins said.

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