Augusta commissioners are expected to vote this week to allow developers to continue putting raised-edge asphalt curbing in new subdivisions, a decision public works officials say will ultimately cost taxpayers far more than developers save.
It also would leave Augusta as the only metropolitan city in the state that still allows the cheaper curbing instead of standard concrete curb and gutter.
Officials in eight other Georgia counties said raised-edge asphalt curbing is not allowed in subdivisions there except for maintenance when the developer has finished.
The Augusta Chronicle surveyed officials in Columbia, Athens-Clarke, Columbus-Muscogee, Chatham, Bibb, Floyd, DeKalb and Cobb counties last week. Augusta officials said Fulton County also does not allow asphalt curbing.
Most said they did not even remember whether or when that type of curbing had ever been used in their counties.
"It would be a maintenance problem," said Vincent Grebenberg, civil engineer for Chatham County. "Nobody's tried that one around here."
Roy McHaney, staff engineer of Athens-Clarke County, said, "If it's done anywhere in the state, I think it would be a small, woodsy county.
"I don't think you're going to find a developing county like Augusta and Athens-Clarke still allowing that."
And twice in recent weeks, Augusta's Engineering Services Committee has voted in favor of raised-edge curbing at the prompting of engineering firms and developers and against the advice of the city's top officials.
David Hargrove of James G. Swift & Associates engineering firm, a spokesman for asphalt curbing, calls it "an alternative to concrete gutters that is used to balance the economics of lot density and roadway construction costs in rural areas."
And that means it allows developers to keep their costs down and sell their houses cheaper, he said.
Mr. Hargrove said the problem is not the asphalt curbing but the lack of a standard for using it in Richmond County.
"It's been sort of each engineer and each contractor is given the latitude of being creative in his design," Mr. Hargrove said. "And if you go into these (subdivisions) you can see some that look really good. And you can see some that look like hell."
are expected to vote at Tuesday's commission meeting on implementing a standard for asphalt curbing.
So far, Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard is the only commissioner on record opposing asphalt curbing.
Allowing it to continue would be a mistake, he said.
"I don't think the people of this city will want that," Mr. Beard said. "I think the second-largest city in Georgia shouldn't be allowing something that from my research no other city does.
"I don't think we should do something because it's politically feasible at that point in time. We should look out for the best interests of our citizens. That's why we were elected. And I know I'm going to be in the minority on Tuesday."
The engineering committee first voted in favor of the asphalt curbing three weeks ago after Administrator Randy Oliver, Public Works Director Jack Murphy and Engineer Douglas Cheek warned its members that raised-asphalt curbing is inferior in more ways than one to concrete curb and gutter.
FOR ONE THING, concrete curb and gutter is safer, they said. The American Public Works Association agreed.
Concrete curbing defines the edge of the street for drivers and pedestrians, whereas raised asphalt has no vertical barrier to warn inattentive drivers they're going off the road.
"Allowing streets to be built without curb and gutter can save a few dollars in construction costs, but as time passes, taxpayers will pay much more for maintenance than the developer saved," the APWA also states in its pamphlet, Why Curb and Gutter?
"Public officials should not compromise their standards on curb and gutter without good reason."
At that first meeting, Mr. Cheek distributed photographs showing how the cheaper curbing had deteriorated in some areas of Augusta. He said whenever a maintenance problem arose with the raised-edge asphalt, homeowners wanted to know why the city allows such a deficient product.
But before the second vote last week, in which the measure was approved unanimously by Engineering Services Committee members J.B. Powell, Freddie Handy, Ulmer Bridges and Richard Colclough, no one spoke out against the raised-edge curbing. Mr. Cheek said he was told before the meeting not to "speak unless spoken to."
HIS BOSS JACK Murphy and Mr. Oliver said they had said all they could say at the first meeting.
All four of the commissioners are up for re-election this year, and the builders association is a major lobbyist and campaign contributor, as are construction and engineering firms.
But the elected officials said that has nothing to do with the way they vote on this issue.
"It doesn't with me, but I suspect it does with some," said Commissioner Jerry Brigham.
Mr. Brigham has had phone calls from the public asking him to vote against the asphalt curbing. He has received letters endorsing it from engineers and the president of Metro Augusta Builders Association, he said.
Mr. Brigham said he's still trying to decide how he will vote.
Mr. Colclough said he had no reason to change his vote from last week.
"I'm just thinking of a person with a dream for a home, and they make enough to qualify for a loan, but if we add a $1,500 cost to that home, they may not be able to qualify, and we have killed their dream," he said.
Mr. Colclough lives in Pepperidge subdivision, where the entrance area has curb and gutter but the streets have raised-edge asphalt, he said.
"I've lived in my house for 12 years, and there's only the natural wear you get with anything," he said.
Commissioner Stephen Shepard, however, who lives on Natalie Circle in west Augusta, said the raised-edge asphalt on his street has deteriorated. He plans to question engineers Tuesday about whether it can be resurfaced like the rest of the street.
Commissioner Ulmer Bridges said his main fear is the board will drive development away from south Augusta.
Commissioner Bill Kuhlke, a developer, said curb and gutter is best. It looks better and does a better job of controlling water, he said, but perhaps the city should allow asphalt curbing only in areas with big lots with considerable road frontage.
Commissioner Henry Brigham also said he thought compromise was in order.
MR. HARGROVE insists that raised-edge asphalt is not inferior and there are valid cost reasons for using it.
"Let's say you're in a market in rural Columbia County or rural Aiken County or rural Richmond County and you're trying to develop land," he said.
"And let's say your market ceiling is $16,000 a lot. You've got to find some way, if you're going to put houses in there, to develop a lot that will at least let you pay for that lot, carry it for two or three years if you have to with interest -- construction-loan interest and mortgage interest -- and then sell it to a homeowner so that they can incorporate that into a mortgage and still have affordable housing."
Mr. Hargrove said the folks in public works are good people, but they have "tunnel vision.
"They say the cost of construction is $500 a lot in hard cost," he said. "But a cost analysis over the long haul shows the payment over a 25-year mortgage gets it up to about $1,500 or $1,600."
Raised-edge curbing is about $4.25 per linear foot, compared with $8.25 per linear foot for concrete curb and gutter, which would add about $500 to the cost of a house on an average 100-foot lot, according to city officials.
Charles Brooks, engineer with Bibb County in Macon, said asphalt curbing wouldn't be conceivable there.
"Even the developers don't consider it here," he said.
Sylvia Cooper covers Richmond County government for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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