Waste Watchers: Taxpayer questions $800 thousand to beautify bridge

6:53 PM, Aug 21, 2012   |    comments
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Preliminary conceptual drawing of Cumberland Boulevard bridge beautification.

MARIETTA, Ga - A federal grant will pay for $800 thousand dollars to give a Cobb County bridge a makeover, and one Cobb County resident believes it's a misuse of his tax dollars.

Ron Sifen believes the Cumberland Boulevard bridge over I-75 is just fine the way it is.

"It's a good bridge," said Sifen. "I think what is here functions well."

According to their application for federal funds, The Cumberland Community Improvement District wants to turn the bridge into an "attractive gateway into Cobb County."

"Aesthetic improvements are an important part of any community," said Tad Leithead, Chairman of the Cumberland CID. "If you visit any of the great cities of the world, they're beautiful. I think people like to be in an aesthetically pleasing environment."

Leithead said among other enhancements, the CID wants to add decorative lighting, benches, and decorative signage to the bridge. According to the application for federal funds, the plans call for replacement of the chain link fencing along the bridge with "a more maintenance free, structurally superior and attractive material."

The total cost of the project is a million dollars. Leithead says the CID will pay $200 thousand of that with money raised from 180 businesses and property owners in the area that agreed to a voluntary tax.

The rest, $800 thousand, will come from a U.S. Department of Transportation grant from its Transportation Enhancement program . That's where Sifen has a problem.

"The CID is just taking advantage of what Washington is making available," said Sifen. "But I don't think Washington should be making big pots of money available for decorating bridges."

After 11Alive posed questions to the Cumberland CID, Chairman Leithead called 11Alive reporter Jerry Carnes from his vacation.

Leithead insists his organization was willing to pay the entire beautification bill without taxpayer dollars until they discovered and were awarded the $800 thousand federal grant.

"We didn't encourage the federal government to provide this grant," said Leithead. "We just applied when it became available, so apparently the federal government also believes that investment in the beautification of communities is worthwhile.

"We were able to procure those funds as opposed to losing them to another part of the region," Leithead added. "We brought these taxes back home.

Leithead says while the thrust of the project is beautification the lighting will provide a safety element for the bridge.

The project is still in the planning stages.

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