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Report: Funding falls short for region's road fixes

Four of Floyd County’s bridges made the top 40 list of the worst in Northwest Georgia in a new report released by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit.

Moving the Northwest Georgia Region Forward” is one of 12 regional reports that examines travel and population trends, road and bridge conditions, traffic safety, congestion, and transportation funding needs in Georgia.

Every bridge in the region that’s 20 feet long or longer is rated as deficient, according to the report.

While Bartow County has just two on the top 40 worst list, the Sugar Valley Road bridge across Nancy Creek in Cartersville holds the top spot.

Polk and Gordon counties each have two; four bridges in Chattooga County made the list; and Walker County has seven. The other counties in the region are Catoosa, Dade, Fannin, Gilmer, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens and Whitfield.

This chart shows the Floyd County bridges on a ranking of the 40 most deficient bridges (carrying a minimum of 500 vehicles per day) in the Northwest Georgia region based on the number of categories where the bridge ranked “deficient” (P = Moving Georgia Forward 6 physical condition of deck, superstructure or substructure based on a rating of 4 or below for its deck, substructure or superstructure; C = the carrying capacity of the bridge is 18 tons or less; R = the bridge is restricted to only carrying lighter-weight vehicles), and average daily traffic (ADT).

DeficiencyRankFacility CarriedFeature IntersectedLocationYear BuiltADT
PCR4Walnut AvenueNS Railroad (719109G)In Rome19744,815
PCR8Plainville RoadWoodward Creek3 mi NE of Shannon19261,455
PCR19Gaines LoopWoodward Creek10.8 mi NE of Rome1945735
PCR29Bells Ferry RoadWoodward Creek2.3 mi W of Shannon1938525

“What I like about TRIP is they utilize a lot of data sets,” Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry told members of the state board last week.

“They do a very good job ... (the report) is something we rely on as well,” he said.

TRIP conducted its survey in late 2019 and early 2020 and determined 29% of the county-maintained roads are in poor condition. However, there’s only enough funding programmed this year to address 15% of the miles that need to be resurfaced and 10% of the roads in need of reconstruction.

“In fact, the amount anticipated to be spent by Northwest Georgia area county governments in 2020 on highways and bridges is only 51% of the total amount needed,” a Nov. 16 news release states.

Of the 1,748 local and state bridges surveyed in the region, 257 are rated as deficient in their physical condition or carrying capacity. TRIP calculated its rankings based on the number of areas a bridge is deficient and the average daily traffic.

♦ Floyd County has two in the top 10. The Walnut Avenue bridge over the Norfolk Southern tracks came in at No. 4. It was built in 1974 and carries an average of 4,815 vehicles a day. The Plainville Road bridge over Woodward Creek near Shannon is No. 8.

Lower on the list, and with less traffic, are the Gaines Loop and Bells Ferry Road bridges over Woodward Creek. All four bridges have physical issues as well as weight limitations.

♦ Polk County’s College Street bridge over the CSX tracks in South Cedartown, built in 1918, comes in at No. 3. It carries an average of 5,175 vehicles a day.

The North College Street bridge over a Cedar Creek tributary in North Cedartown is listed as No. 33. Its issue is carrying capacity, with over 5,600 vehicles crossing each day.

♦ Gordon County’s two bridges — in the lower half of the list — are on Battle Road, over Rocky Creek near the Floyd County line and on U.S. 41, over Lynn Creek south of Calhoun. The bridge on 41 sees an estimated 11,070 vehicles a day.

♦ Chattooga County’s four bridges are in the top half of the list. Two are on Oak Hill Road near Lyerly, over Mosteller Creek and Broomtown Creek.

Bridges over the Chattooga River, on Lyerly Dam Road and on Center Post Road near Trion also are among the region’s most deficient.

♦ In Bartow County, the Station Road bridge over Oothkalooga Creek in Adairsville has carrying capacity issues and is rated 37th out of the 40 on the list. The Sugar Valley Road bridge, which gets an average of 9,480 vehicles a day, also has a low rating for its physical condition.

♦ Walker County comes in 9th, 10th and 11th, with bridges on East Armuchee Road near Villanow, Salem Road near Rossville and Straight Cut Road over Crawfish Creek north of LaFayette.

Lower down are bridges on West Cove Road west of LaFayette and — near Chickamauga — Red Belt Road, Chattanooga Valley and Euclid Road.

The report notes that, at a time when Georgia is expecting a significant increase in freight deliveries, the quality of the region’s transportation system will affect its ability to attract economic development.

A system “that is maintained in good condition, can accommodate large commercial vehicles, and is reliable and safe is vital to the quality of life of the Northwest Georgia region’s residents, the success and growth of businesses, and the positive experience of its visitors,” said Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director, in the release.

Small Business Saturday helps kick off holiday shopping season

Today is Small Business Saturday, an initiative of American Express to follow on the heels of Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.

This year, perhaps more than ever, the importance of supporting small businesses across the community has been elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is imperative that our community comes together and supports our small business this holiday season,” said Aundi Lesley, Rome’s downtown development director. “Talking with several of our downtown business owners this year it really is make or break for a lot of them.”

Jeanne Krueger, president of the Rome Floyd Chamber said the chamber has spent close to $10,000 this year to promote Shop Rome during the holidays. She also said that considerable effort has been made to assist local small businesses enhance their web presence.

Close to 80% of the chamber membership is considered to be a small business, defined locally as 50 or fewer employees.

Jeanne Krueger

Aundi Lesley

Lesley said that shop owners are concerned that people are still a little leery of getting out and about but most of the merchants are confident they have done everything they can to make in-person shopping a safe experience.

The biggest battle many of the small business owners have faced this year has stemmed from having to adapt to change.

“Any time you have to change your operation significantly, that’s going to be a challenge,” Krueger said. “For those businesses looking to increase their presence on the web I think this year has expedited that. The Chamber has been able to come alongside and partner with them and offer opportunities to sell their products online.”

Doug Walker 

Jan Fergerson at Ford, Gittings & Kane Jewelers makes sure Santa at the front door is all masked up for the holidays.

Jan Fergerson at Ford Gittings & Kane Jewelers said her staff is constantly wiping down the jewelry display cases and has hand sanitizer scattered at locations throughout the store.

“We have had more people call us and come see us during this thing saying we want to come buy something from you because we want you to be here next year,” she said. “It’s reassuring for us and it makes you feel good to know that people care.”

Spencer Brewer at Lavender Mountain Hardware said the last five weeks of the year are very important to his business.

“Fall typically is a prime planting season for trees and shrubs, a lot of bedding plants,” Brewer said. The store’s extensive nursery and garden section has enjoyed a very good year with people staying at home and out in the yard during the pandemic.

Virginia Brewer said the fourth quarter actually ranks right behind the spring in terms of its importance at Lavender Mountain Hardware.

“We sell Christmas trees and we make wreaths and garland,” Virginia said. The other thing is our gifts, we do really good with our gift department.”

Doug Walker 

Virginia Brewer hangs a UGA ornament on a Christmas tree at Lavender Mountain Hardware. The last six weeks of the year are big for small businesses like Lavender Mountain.

Like so many other small businesses, Virginia Brewer said the store is encouraging visitors to wear masks and if they don’t have one the shop will make one available.

Lavender Mountain Hardware will also take telephone orders and has staff ready to bring the orders out to customers.

“It seems like it is not happening as much as it was before, people ae not quite as afraid I guess as they were in the beginning, but we still do that,” Virginia said.

This is the first holiday season for Mary Andersen, owner at Cheeky Baby, a baby boutique at 306 Broad Street. Andersen took two of the ground floor retail spaces in the Lofts at Third and Broad.

“I kind of live in a state of bliss because I don’t know what pre-COVID looks like,” Andersen said. “We’re just thankful that we have customers who come in and visit with us.”

It certainly wasn’t her intention to open a new business in the midst of a pandemic, having developed her business plan and making arrangements to acquire the space a year ago.

Nonetheless, Andersen realizes that this time of year from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the time when businesses hopefully cross from red ink to black ink and begin to show a profit.

“We’re a brand new business, still in our infancy stage, so it’s that much more important to see people coming through the doors,” Andersen said. Yes, the next five weeks are very important to us.

For customers who might feel a bit uneasy about in-person shopping, Andersen said people can buy through her website with in-store or curb pick-up. She’s also offering free shipping on orders of $75 or more.

Andersen is also putting the wraps on a Christmas tree giveaway. People can register for a free tree on either her Facebook or Instagram pages. On Monday, 20 names will be drawn at random and the trees will be delivered.

Doug Walker 

This is Mary Andersen’s first holiday season in business at Cheeky Baby on Broad Street. She said she doesn’t have anything to compare sales to pre-COVID-19, but is grateful for the customers that have helped make her first year with her baby boutique a success.

Attention to detail is evident in the completely edible creation of gingerbread and fondant. Fans of the original Home Alone movie will remember the statue in front of the McCallister home being knocked over by the pizza delivery car.

Caden Chavers, a student at Model Elementary School

Rome City Commissioner serving on Electoral College for the first time

As a long time member of the Georgia Democratic Party, Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis will have the opportunity to cast an Electoral College vote for President-elect Joe Biden next month.

She is one of 16 Democratic electors from all across the state of Georgia. Some are city officials, like Davis, and others are state legislators, like State Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus. The rest of Georgia’s delegates are veteran party members or emerging leaders, such as Young Democrats of Georgia President Rachel Paule.

After looking through some records, Davis didn’t find anyone else from the Rome-Floyd area who was an elector for the Democratic Party at the Electoral College, possibly making her the first from this community.

Davis has been a member of the Democratic National Committee since 2012, making her one of the senior members of the state’s democratic leadership. She is also currently the longest serving Georgia DNC member.

When putting together the Electoral College, each political party puts together a slate of 16 electors — representative of the 14 congressional representatives and two senate seats — for the presidential election.

Once the popular vote is cast, the majority winner’s party sends their 16 electors to Atlanta to officially cast the electoral college vote for Georgia.

“So on Dec. 14, we’ll meet somewhere in Atlanta and cast the 16 votes to determine who will become president and vice president,” Davis said.

According to Davis, the Georgia Democratic Party executive committee voted on the 16 people to serve on the electoral college from a list of members.

“Our leadership tried very hard to make sure it was geographically representative of our state,” she said.

Those who are nominated then travel to the state capital during the qualifying period in March to qualify and officially become a member of the Electoral College.

When Davis found out she was one of the 16 electors back in February, she felt very honored, but wasn’t sure if she was actually going to be able to cast the vote.

“It still seemed like a little bit of a stretch to think that we would actually be the ones to get to vote so all 16 of us are pretty excited to cast those votes and be part of the 535 people to pick the president and vice president,” she said.

Changing the role of chief elections clerk, board changes to come in 2021

As the county moves out of the 2020 election and goes into the U.S. Senate runoff on Jan. 5, followed by city elections in 2021, the Floyd County Board of Elections will be dealing with some changes.

For now, the elections board has decided to wait until after the U.S. Senate runoff to make a decision about the chief elections clerk role.

Since the termination of Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady last week, elections board members haven’t made a decision about who will fill that role going forward. In the meantime, Elections Clerk Vanessa Waddell will be overseeing the office.

The board had planned to start working on their decision. However, the recount of the presidential election, called by President Donald Trump, has caused them to put that work on hold.

Another change that will be coming will happen at the first of the year.

On Jan. 1, Elections Board Chair Tom Rees will step down from his position and Corey Townsend will become the third person on the board.

However, the board hasn’t made a decision as to who will take the place of chair, according to Floyd County Attorney Virginia Harman.

The final decision will be made by Floyd County commissioners once they receive the nomination from the board.

That decision won’t leave a lot of time for preparations with upcoming elections on the horizon.

Elections clerk, or elections manager?

Harman spoke to Floyd County commissioners about a possible path the elections board could take when it comes to hiring a new person.

With the help of state legislators, they could change the system and how they run elections altogether.

Currently, the elections board and chief elections clerk are the ones who oversee the elections process in Floyd County as a whole. This has been a part of state legislation since 1986. The chief elections clerk is also a “general merit employee,” according to Harman, meaning they can be hired or fired like any other employee.

However, in nearby counties which have elections superintendents that hiring and firing process works a lot differently.

Their roles are significantly more defined and they have a higher pay grade which is over $10,000 higher than the Floyd County Chief Elections Clerk position.

The position of chief elections clerk in Floyd County has a starting salary range of $34,405 to $37,925.

But in surrounding counties the position is treated as more of a supervisory role. In Bartow County the elections director makes an annual above $60,000. Gordon County’s election supervisor earns around $55,000 and Polk County’s elections director an annual salary of $44,700. It’s worth noting that the both population of Gordon and Polk are near half that of Floyd County.

Although there are different election systems, it takes the Georgia General Assembly as a whole to change on the elections system for one county.

Harman said she’s not sure which way the board is currently leaning and if they want to change the duties and paygrade of the chief elections clerk. Before the county attorney herself makes a recommendation, she said she would want to research the process nearby counties use.

However, she also said local legislators Rep. Katie Dempsey, Rep. Eddie Lumsden, Rep. Mitchell Scoggins and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler have voiced they will help Floyd County in any way they can.