WARNER ROBINS — Daron D. Lee is touting long-overdue roadwork as the best way to fight for his constituents on the north side of the city.
As the councilman whose jurisdiction covers the mostly black area of town — consisting mostly of residents who are low-income, elderly or both — he feels the best way to help solve the area’s woes is to offset them.
Roadwork isn’t the only fix needed, he says, but it’s the starting point for everything else.
City officials approved $400,000 in a 2001 special purpose local option sales tax referendum to make Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard a three-lane road, complete with turn lanes in some areas, a median in others. Sidewalks were to be added on both sides, as well as lighting and improved landscaping. The original purpose of the MLK project was to begin a revitalization for the area, providing the necessary face-lift that could usher business into the area, growing its tax base and finding new residents who wanted to call the area home.
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None of it has happened, he said.
“Somehow, I guess, it was not followed through,” he said.
The street winds its way through the north side beginning at Davis Drive near Warner Robins High School, traveling around the school’s baseball and softball fields and around the back of Macon State College’s Warner Robins campus until it reaches Ga. 247.
Around it are little-used recreation areas, empty fields and a closed gas station, among other things.
“It could be inviting for development,” Lee said Friday, standing in the area where the street turns behind Macon State.
“It also builds a relationship with the community ... to show them somebody’s interested. At this point in the administration, we need to rebuild that relationship.”
Warner Robins Public Works Director Joe Musselwhite said at a recent City Council meeting that $378,000 had been approved for work upgrading Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but bids from companies to complete the project came in at more than $1 million.
The previous administration sat on the project, he said.
It eventually got re-prioritized right out of the mix.
Today, the project would cost even more, officials said, thanks to the rising costs of materials.
Lee, who was sworn in Jan. 4, says he feels demographics have a lot to do with the north side of town being under-represented or ignored altogether. Money from other projects yet to be completed in the SPLOST fund could help offset some of the rising materials costs.
He’s taken to bringing the project up in meetings when he finds an appropriate moment. Other projects that weren’t adequately funded have been funded — and completed. The MLK Boulevard project is still waiting its turn.
“I wanted some answers in terms of why this hasn’t been taken care of,” he said. “That whole side of town was pretty much not thought of in many years. Demographics have a lot to do with it.
“The majority of (Warner Robins’) major taxpayers don’t come from that area.”
But they could, he said, given the right amount of nurturing for the area. The area is ripe for new businesses, he said, but they need a gentle nudge from the city to get them there.
“Nobody’s going to invest in this side of town like this,” Lee said. “If the city isn’t leading the way, how can we expect people to want to be there?”
To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.