The proposal, which drew praise as well as concern, includes a new entrance with parking for 43 vehicles at the end of the cul-de-sac on Riverlook Drive using a vacant lot owned by the Augusta Utilities Department.
“There was access here before, and there was a problem with parking on the street, which we hope to alleviate with off-road parking,” said Dayton Sherrouse, the Canal Authority’s executive director.
Canal and Augusta Utilities officials held a two-hour information session at the site, where conceptual drawings showed a landscaped entryway in which a brick and metal fence and decorative gates would replace existing chain-link and barbed-wire utility fences.
The project, which would be completed in early 2013, would replace a problematic access at Eisenhower Park that requires visitors to walk along a railroad right of way and cross a narrow, rusted metal footbridge.
Residents had plenty to say.
“I think, aesthetically, it would be an improvement, but there would also be a concern about speeding and traffic flow,” said Marybeth McGee, who moved to Castlewood Drive with her husband, Brian, about five years ago.
The 25 mph speed limit is frequently ignored, and more traffic would require better efforts to protect the area’s children, she said.
Sherrouse told residents that the Canal Authority already uses off-duty deputies to patrol the canal and would certainly include the gateway in their rounds. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office could also step up patrols.
Deborah Amos, whose backyard adjoins the vacant lot that would be converted to parking, has lived in the area 15 years and welcomes access to the popular towpath and trail system.
“I’d love to see it open today,” she said, adding, however, that she has concerns about crime and security and would like the parking area to be restricted to the currently fenced-in property closer to the canal.
“The gateway entry drawings look nice, and I know they’ll do a good job with it,” she said. “But can they post a cop here 24 hours a day?”
Russell Foster, the canal authority’s project manager, said efforts are under way to provide better ways for the public to enter the popular area, which has been closed to vehicles since Goodrich Street was gated a year ago.
Comments about the project are welcomed. Complete plans and images are available online at www.augustacanal.com/projects.