Augusta has been busy tidying up its streets, vacant buildings, trash piles and other messes.
A four-month series by The Augusta Chronicle called “Pardon Our Mess” has drawn attention to 16 public and private pieces of property in need of some tender loving care.
Since the first complaint aired on Sept. 2 – a weed-, litter- and vagrant-infested old Augusta library – nine of the issues have been completely fixed, four have been addressed and three remain as they were, without any action.
Half of the reader-generated complaints reported during the feature’s lifetime have ties to the Augusta Traffic Engineering and Georgia Transportation departments, two agencies where officials say maintenance problems are more visible to the naked eye.
“You are talking about 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles a day driving the city,” said Steve Cassell, assistant director of traffic engineering for the city of Augusta. “That’s a lot of people surveying our roadways and their neighboring right-of-ways.”
Cassell’s department has had to pardon six messes since the newspaper’s feature began.
That’s more than any other office or property owner.
Repairs made have included cutting back overgrown shrubs on Bransford Avenue; filling a 5-inch pothole on St. Sebastian Way; fixing a toppled “Do Not Enter” sign on Druid Park and Central avenues; repairing a crumbled sewer top on Hill Creek Drive; and removing large tree limbs piled outside Georgia Regents University’s Summerville entrance.
The only problem not completely addressed by traffic engineering is exposed underground wiring on Broad Street, which the department covered with cones until the party responsible, AT&T, repairs the lid securing the line.
Despite the high number of complaints, Cassell’s team responded to reader-reported messes the same week, or even day, they were notified.
“Most of the time, once we’re contacted, or even before we’re contacted, we have had a plan in place to address the issues presented to us,” Cassell said. “It says a lot about our field supervisors and their ability to manage their people with the little resources we do have. We would like to have more staff, but people would be surprised to see how hard we work on a day-to-day basis.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation corrected one of two messes on its roads featured in the Pardon Our Mess series, but the corrected issue already needs more maintenance.
A concrete island on Mike Padgett Highway at Apple Valley Drive had no reflectors and was frequently stuck by motorists. The department added six white poles with red reflector strips but only four were still standing last week. One pole lay in the road.
“The pole does need replacing,” said Cissy McNure, a GDOT spokeswoman. The department has no other plans to make the island more visible.
The second area in need of maintenance by GDOT is a series of large dips and bumps on Bobby Jones Expressway near exit 16. GDOT previously said that issue will be corrected during scheduled resurfacing in 2014.
Downtown business owner Bonnie Ruben took issue with the feature that spotlighted the former J.C. Penney building at 732 Broad St. Ruben said she was one of only two private property owners “singled out” while the remaining issues were city or government owned.
The other was the owner of a partially submerged houseboat that was abandoned on the banks of the Savannah River in North Augusta just north of the Fifth Street bridge. The owner contacted The Chronicle upset by the press, but has not called back to say the boat has been moved, as he said he would.
Ruben said no changes were made and no action had been taken since the boarded-up building with debris strewn in the doorways was featured on Oct. 21.
Ruben added that loose brick on the building, which Augusta Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile previously said was a code violation, was held in place by brackets that have been on the building for several years.
“Somebody targeted me and my building,” Ruben said about the newspaper feature. “I don’t appreciate it either.”
Cassell said Pardon Our Mess has been helpful in evaluating and prioritizing complaints.
“Anything is helpful,” he said. “It brings attention to what our department does on a daily basis, which is something that people at times, take for granted.”