Cape mayoral candidates say they would look for way to pave half a mile of gravel roads in city

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Garden Lane is a gravel street at the end of Capaha Trail in the northeast part of Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

After 15 years and $60 million in local tax money spent to improve Cape Girardeau's streets, a little less than half a mile of the 220 miles of roads remain unpaved.

Whether the city should commit itself to putting an asphalt surface on the remaining patches of gravel -- most about 200 to 300 feet long and serving a handful of houses, if any -- was raised at the forum for city candidates last week. To the questioner, who was anonymous, the presence of gravel streets "sends the message that Cape Girardeau is a 'backwoods' community."

In August, voters will be asked to approve the half-cent Transportation Trust Fund, or TTF, sales tax for the fourth time. A key element of the first five-year tax plan, approved in 1995, was to put a hard pavement surface on every street in the city. Voters will choose a new mayor and council members in an election to be held April 6.

One of the people most surprised at the question last week was Harry Rediger, candidate for mayor and chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee that drafted the TTF plan for the August ballot. The earlier TTF programs made big strides toward street improvements in many areas, he said, and he wasn't aware that any gravel roads remained within city limits.

The question wasn't asked of mayoral candidates. But Rediger said he did take note of it and intends to follow up.

In all, the city has 10 streets that are not paved to their end, running a total of 2,582 feet.

Told that, Rediger said he wasn't too troubled by the remaining gravel but would work to find money to complete them.

"If we could keep it outside the wings of TTF and use gas tax funds to do that on a case-by-case basis, we certainly should," Rediger said. "It isn't anything we would tack on to TTF-4 or drop a project for."

Rediger's rival for the mayor's post, former councilman Matt Hopkins, also expressed surprise. When told the extent of remaining gravel roads, Hopkins said he would look for funds to complete the paving but wouldn't disrupt TTF to do so.

"Half a mile of streets in the whole scheme of things is a small amount," Hopkins said.

Examples of gravel streets include Oakley Drive and Brucher Street. The gravel portion runs for 417 feet, connects two paved streets of the same name and serves one house and two additional garages.

The longest section of gravel, 590 feet serving four houses on Walnut Street west of Beaudean Lane, is on the TTF-4 program slated for the August ballot. Walnut Street will be extended to West End Boulevard to provide access to the new Shawnee Community Centre.

Many of the streets are dead ends, such as the 115-foot section of Amethyst Street off North Sprigg Street that serves only a gravel parking lot.

The city hasn't paved the remaining gravel streets for a variety of reasons. The most common, said Public Works Department director Tim Gramling, is that the traffic on the street doesn't warrant any improvements in the surface. Another, he said, is that other streets that are already paved may be in more dire need of repairs, meaning money that could be spent on paving those gravel streets is being used elsewhere.

"As our dollars get tighter, if we have got the money to do those streets we can try," Gramling said. "We try to concentrate all the money on streets that get traffic. It is one of those things that is kind of a judgment each time."

Two of the three Cape Girardeau City Council candidates who took part in the forum said paving gravel streets should be a priority. "We need to pave the streets," said Stafford Moore, candidate in Ward 2.

Teresa Robinson, a candidate in Ward 1, agreed. "We do need to take care of the gravel roads," she said.

John Voss, the Ward 1 incumbent who Robinson is trying to unseat, said it was a matter of priorities.

The city has many road construction needs, he said. Gravel roads need to be improved, and existing paved streets need to be maintained. "We need to balance all that," Voss said. "We just don't have enough money to do all the projects we have."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

1100 Walnut St., Cape Girardeau, MO

600 Amethyst St., Cape Girardeau, MO

1300 Oakley Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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