Council OKs downtown project

With the future loss of more than 100 jobs due to Orgills decision to build a new distribution center in Missouri, Vandalia has to reassess its priorities, Mayor Rick Gottman said at a meeting on Tuesday night.

But, he said, while the city has to refocus its efforts on getting more jobs, it cannot put off a plan to revitalize the downtown business district.

At the conclusion of that Tuesday meeting, the Vandalia City Council decided to move ahead with the project that includes significant improvements along Gallatin Street between Third and Seventh streets.

Those improvements include streetscape work such as new sidewalks with brick edging and insets, the replacement of overhead street lights with period lighting, benches, trash containers, flowering dogwood trees and the relocation of overhead utility lines underground.

Also part of the project is a new concrete road surface for the four blocks and the replacement of the storm sewer system in that area. The existing storm sewer lines run in sections with sanitary sewer lines.

Being dropped from the earlier phase of the project are improvements to water and sanitary sewer lines along Gallatin Street and the one-block sections north and south of Gallatin Street.

The council, which met on Tuesday with members of the Downtown Advisory Committee formed specifically for this project, voted unanimously to move ahead with the project after hearing about its options from Lorne Jackson of HMG Engineers of Carlyle, the citys consulting engineering firm.

Those options included the span of the project along Gallatin Street, from Third Street to either Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets.

The council also was charged with deciding whether the roadway work would include milling the current roadway and putting down a new asphalt overlay or replacing the existing roadway with new concrete.

Aldermen went with concrete because it has twice the life expectancy after learning that the city has set aside enough funds in the next two years to make that part of the project. Jackson said the city could expect the concrete roadway with ongoing maintenance to last about 20 years, as opposed to a life expectancy of about 10 years for asphalt.

Jackson said HMG has estimated the improvements, with a new concrete roadway, at about $2.2 million.

City Administrator Jimmy Morani said the city has set aside about $2.4 million for the project.

Included in that total is just under $1 million in federal TEA-21 funds that were awarded to the city during the mayoral tenure of Sandra Leidner in November 2000.

That TEA-21 figure does not include the money that has been and will be spent for engineering and the creation and installation of the citys 10 Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits.

The level of federal funding was reduced after the council scaled back the project, which originally called for the Gallatin surface to be replaced with a brick roadway.

The city is on its own in paying for the storm sewer improvements, and is getting a little less than $200,000 from the state for the road surface improvements.

It also has the possibility, Jackson explained, of making some needed repairs to water and sewer lines when Gallatin Street is torn up and prepared for new concrete.

With the councils vote on Tuesday, HMG will now proceed with getting the paperwork done for an Illinois Department of Transportation bid letting.

Jackson said the city would most likely be included in IDOTs January bid letting.

The council went with Gottmans recommendation to have the improvements after the mayor favored expanding the project as much as possible to try to utilize as much of the TEA-21 funds as possible.

The mayor said he would like to see the city do more, such as the water and sewer line improvements, but its not feasible to do that right now.

I would love to do the Cadillac, but we cant afford the Cadillac, he said.

But, he said, its time to get the project going. That endorsement was supported by two members of the advisory committee, merchants Donelle Conaway and Rita Mae Allen.

Donaway said that numerous visitors to her business, Something Special Florist at Fourth and Gallatin streets, make positive comments about the downtown district.

Theres more there than you realize, Conaway said. Its quiet and quaint, but can you imagine what people will think when its enhanced.

With the city committed to making streetscape improvements, Conaway said, theres a good chance that owners of downtown buildings will become more committed to improving those buildings.

While city officials need to concentrate on recruiting new business and industry, Gottman said, it needs to remember the importance of the downtown and the commitment of numerous merchants to operate their businesses in the downtown district.

The downtown is very important to us, Gottman said, and we need to do what we can to both help the merchants who are down there and grow the downtown business district.

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