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State closing in on Alabama Highway widening project

After years of discussion, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) recently awarded a nearly $35 million construction bid for the planned widening project of Ga. Highway 151 from Holcomb Road to U.S. Highway 41 in Ringgold.

The GDOT recently awarded the project bid to Marietta, Ga.- based C.W. Matthews Construction Company in the amount of $34,596,916. Officials say the project will start "soon."

"At this point we still don't have a firm start date," said Mohamed Arafa, public relations manager for GDOT. "Once a contract is awarded, GDOT sends a notice to proceed. However, we leave it to the contractor to decide on a starting date depending on the mobilization process and equipment movement."

Arafa says a start date will have to be announced at least two weeks ahead of time if the work will interfere with traffic so the public can be made aware.

He added that the contract includes language that the project is to be completed by Feb. 28, 2018.

The project includes the widening and reconstruction of Ga. Highway 151 (Alabama Highway) from approximately 3,200 feet south of Rollins Industrial Boulevard at Holcomb Road through the I-75 Interchange to U.S. Highway 41 in Ringgold for a distance of approximately 2.03 miles. The

widening will be from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane divided with a 20-foot raised median to Boynton Road/Lafayette Street and flush median to U.S. 41. The project also includes the replacement of the existing bridges over I-75 and South Chickamauga Creek, and the reconstruction of the existing I-75/Ga. 151 interchange.

"Upon completion, this project will provide local and through traffic along Ga. 151 with a roadway that will adequately serve current and future travel demands and provide the public with a safer driving environment," Arafa said. "The Ga. 151 improvements are part of the Chattanooga Urban Area Transportation Study and involve the multilaning of this primarily north-south corridor in North Georgia near the city of Ringgold. The project also provides for future expansion of I-75 with a longer bridge and relocated ramps."

Setting the record straight
County Republican Party makes clear stance on education

"The Catoosa County Republican Party stands for smaller government, fiscal responsibility and more liberty, including in the way we educate our children," says party Chairman Jeff Holcomb.

The recent uproar over the party's platform, Holcomb says, was "due to things that were printed that are absolute fabrications, including a claim that we stand for no government-funded education."

"We are not calling for the end of public schools," says Holcomb. "It would be impossible not to have public schools. What we're calling for is more parental control over education."

The party's platform contains two sections on education, one that addresses the present and one that outlines a vision for the future.

In a section titled "Public Tax Supported Education Now," the platform includes: "Education of the children of the nation does not mean that the state should take the place of parents ... Educational institutions of this state shall have the absolute right as given by parents to maintain discipline in their classroom and school system. Children are expected to respect their teachers and obey the policies of the school ... Parents should be allowed to have input into the curriculum of any school. The ultimate control should be with the administration ..."

Where more controversy has arisen comes from parts of the platform that address school funding. The platform calls for the school board to submit a budget to the county Board of Commissioners, to publish their accounting records online and to "not fear rejecting Federal Funding."

"We need to be frugal with the taxes we take from people," says Holcomb. "Most government expenses are pretty predictable. They can be planned for. You know about how many students will

be in school each year and what they'll need. Public money should be distributed according to each department's needs, and they all need to understand there are limited funds to be shared, which means every department being as responsible as possible."

In a section of the platform titled "Education in the Future," the party envisions a time when government will play little part in education aside from some form of funding: "If government is to play a role in education it might be in funding through a system of direct unfettered 'no strings attached' grants to parents. ... If options within the free enterprise system for schooling are to be made available, funds must be diverted to interested parents in order to attract options."

The platform makes allowance for the possibility that "government can be of assistance in education for a very limited number of children in special circumstances ..."

"The biggest misconception," says Catoosa County Republican Party Vice Chairman Greg Grayson, "is that we advocate eliminating funding for public schools. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Grayson has four children in Catoosa County public schools. "Catoosa schools are heads and shoulders above most systems in the state. They're doing a good job, but one size does not fit all. Parents are their children's primary educators and they deserve choices. This is an area where we can do better."

It's not only parents who need more choice, says Grayson. "Teachers need more choice, too. The government should not be dictating how schools or teachers do their jobs. Education should be a local matter between parents and schools."

Grayson points to the Catoosa school system's management of ESPLOST funds as an example of how tax dollars, managed locally, are well-spent. "They were free to use those funds for whatever capital projects they felt were important. They did an excellent job of picking the projects that most needed to be done and would most benefit the students."

Holcomb agrees that Catoosa schools are doing a good job overall. "My daughters both graduated from Catoosa County schools. I graduated from LFO and wouldn't trade that time for anything. But government is getting more and more involved in the schools and it's not helping matters."

"Our platform on education," says Grayson, "is one that's meant to improve education and options for everyone – parents, children and local teachers. Parents have the right to choose, but if they're blocked from exercising that right because the tax structure only funds one choice, children are the ones who suffer most. Teachers suffer, too, because they're bogged down with mandates and paperwork and they're robbed of the freedom to innovate in ways that would help their students."

"This is not a simple problem," Grayson says, "and there won't be a simple solution. I think working for choice is going in the right direction. Everyone deserves that. We need a variety of options to suit the variety of children out there."

Denise Burns, former chairwoman of the Catoosa County Republican Party, says she wasn't a part of the process of writing the party's platform, but she did read it aloud at the convention where it was voted on. "The Georgia Republican Party does not have a platform delegates can vote on, and I don't think most of the 159 counties in the state do. It's unique for a county to have its own platform, but Republicans tend to be a little more independent that way."

"I don't think anyone is really antipublic school as much as they are pro-local control over what our kids are learning and how resources are allocated," says Burns.

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"We are not calling for the end of public schools. It would be impossible not to have public schools. What we're calling for is more parental control over education." -- Jeff Holcomb, Catoosa County Republican Party chairman

"Our platform on education is one that's meant to improve education and options for everyone – parents, children and local teachers. Parents have the right to choose, but if they're blocked from exercising that right because the tax structure only funds one choice, children are the ones who suffer most. Teachers suffer, too, because they're bogged down with mandates and paperwork and they're robbed of the freedom to innovate in ways that would help their students." -- Greg Grayson, Catoosa County Republican Party vice chairman

"I don't think anyone is really anti-public school as much as they are pro-local control over what our kids are learning and how resources are allocated." -- Denise Burns, former chairwoman of the Catoosa County Republican Party

Fort Oglethorpe eyeing grants to upgrade pedestrian safety and water testing

Jennifer Payne-Simpkins

The city of Fort Oglethorpe is looking at grants to help with pedestrian safety at intersections and with testing of the city's water.

During the most recent city council meeting on Monday night, April 24, the council approved Public Works and Recreation Director Jeff Long's request to apply for a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) to help with public safety.

According to City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins, the grant funds, if awarded, would help with public safety at three intersections in the city.

"It's a competitive improvement grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation's (GDOT) off-system safety program," Payne-Simpkins said. "Our grant application will request funding for solar LED flashing pedestrian crossing signs with thermo plastic stripping at three crosswalks at three intersections."

The intersections proposed are Forrest Road at Shelby Street, Van Cleve Street at Norris Street, and City Hall Drive at Council Street.

The grant also includes an additional four miles worth of thermo plastic stripping for double center lines and edge lines along Forrest Road, Van Cleve Street, Patterson Avenue, and Mack Smith Road.

Payne-Simpkins says grants such as this can go a long way in upgrading the city's public safety measures.

"The GDOT recently released this grant opportunity targeted toward safety improvements on local roads," Payne-Simpkins said. "Off-system roads account for approximately 45 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in Georgia and, as a result of House Bill 170, the state's LMIG program received additional funding from the 2017 supplemental budget. District 6, which we're a part of, received approximately $1.5 million for these types of projects."

The proposed cost of the work is $61,700, and would involved the city paying a 30-percent ($18,510) match per the structure of the grant.

The application has to be submitted by the end of April, and Payne-Simpkins says the city should hear back relatively quickly.

"We expect to hear something soon and if we get it, the work would get underway quickly also," she said.

"As the municipality, we have to agree to have all the work under contract by the end of 2017 if awarded. We're excited ... with the solar LED crossing signs. It's low maintenance from our end. Projects like this are always a matter of funding, so when opportunities like this pop up, we want to try to take advantage of them."

While the city is getting the LMIG grant processed, it already received a water loss technical assistance grant from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA).

The grant includes the city coordinating with technicians from Smart Water Analytics to gather data about the city's water system and testing.

"Over the coming weeks we'll be working with them to gather data about our water, and when completed, we'll get a technical report and recommendations on different capital projects," PayneSimpkins said. "It's helpful for us because otherwise we'd have to pay for this type of testing. Their tech assistance has been helpful to the city in years past."

On October 21, 2013, the city received a technical assistance grant to check its big water meters. As a result, the city was able to repair or replace meters that needed repair per the study.

The following year, on October 6, 2014, the city received a technical assistance grant for leak detection and was able to repair various leaks per the study.

Tourism to park creates $81,561,200 in economic benefit
Report shows visitor spending supports 1,016 jobs in local economy

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that the 1,027,738 visitors to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in 2016 spent $66,160,300 in communities near the park. That spending supported 1016 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $81,561,200.

"Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park welcomes visitors from across the country and around the world," said Park Superintendent Brad Bennett. "We are delighted to share the story of this place and the experiences it provides. We also feature the park as a way to introduce our visitors to this part of the country and all that it offers. National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it's a big factor in our local economy as well. We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain

local communities."

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The report shows $18.4 billion of direct spending by 331 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 318,000 jobs nationally; 271,544 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $34.9 billion.

According to the 2016 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (31.2 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.2 percent), gas and oil (11.7 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent), souvenirs and other expenses (9.7 percent) local transportation (7.4 percent), and camping fees (2.5 percent).

Report authors this year produced an interactive tool. Users can explore current year visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. The interactive tool and report are available at the NPS Social Science Program webpage:

For more information about Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, please contact the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center at (706) 866-9241, the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center at (423) 821-7786, or visit the park's website at