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Residents concerned with county road paving

By Mark Rogers

After recent discussions about the use of borrowed and grant funds obtained for paving roads, some citizens in Lowndes County are concerned that thoroughfares deemed among the worst aren’t on the top of the priority list to pave.

Audrey Moorer, representing the Hickshills Blackbelt Concerned Citizens, addressed the Lowndes County Commission during its Monday meeting and asked some tough questions of the commissioners. At issue are concerns about Mary Jane Jackson Road in District 1, which Commissioner Robert Harris says in among the worst roads in the county, yet is not at the top of the paving priorities.

“I want to know how many road projects are in white neighborhoods as opposed to black neighborhoods,” Moorer asked. “Based on recent proposals it’s racial. Is there a prioritizing of roads in white communities?”

Moorer said County Hwy. 17 is dangerous and potholes on it and Mary Jane Jackson Road are not filled properly.

“It seems like they’re being filled every week,” she said.  “It’s unlevel. There are no lines in the middle. There are no dotted lines to distinguish where it is safe to pass. There are also problems where Hwy. 17 is one lane at the bridge — it’ is an accident waiting to happen.”

County Engineer David Butts said the work on Hwy. 17 was in the process of being completed.

“We’re in the process of working on contracts now,” he said. “We estimated the cost at $150,000 to $170,000 worth of work and only one contractor bid on it. We hope the contractor can start as soon as he can.”

Harris said there were delays in funding and asked Butts to explain the process for the audience.

“The damage on Hwy. 17 happened during a storm event,” he said. “We have had to go through the process of securing the funding through FEMA. In dealing with the federal government, sometimes it takes longer than you would expect. “

After hearing an update on the County Road 7 bridge, which is currently closed and in the process of being bid and contracted, Harris addressed Mary Jane Jackson Road.

“It’s been in the mix for the last six or seven years,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get it done. The can has been kicked down the road. The intent is to get it done as well, but two other roads were put in front of Mary Jane Jackson. I do think there is a trend. I try to do things for the people I represent and for the county. I’ve been continuing to push on this issue, but the majority wins.”

Harris said the road was rated on a scoring system and came in in the 60 percent range.

Commissioner W. Dickson Farrior explained that the funding for projects through grants and loans was limited and that the Commission had split funds between districts.

“Everybody gets a part of it,” he said. “Each commissioner decides which roads in his district are done. Everybody has been getting 20 percent of the money (five districts). I think the system in use is fair for each district.”

Harris contested the response and said the county could have voted to use funds on Mary Jane Jackson Road.

“We cannot continue to sugarcoat things,” Harris said. “We’ve been dealing with this same issue for a while.”

Commissioners will have the appropriations researched, so the Concerned Citizens group can get its answers. More discussions will be held in the future on paving projects in Lowndes County.