Over the past three years, the citizens of Alton may have noticed the number of construction barricades and detours on city streets and in city parks.
Although they may be an inconvenience, they are indicative of the commitment of this administration to addressing the quality of life concerns that enhance the experience of living in Alton for our residents and visitors. With the support of Mayor Walker, the City of Alton Public Works Department has worked aggressively by undertaking many of the challenges to improve city streets, parks and sewer infrastructure. By securing grants and retooling the department’s work force, we have begun to make noticeable enhancements to the city rights of way as we ambitiously work to make our city a better place to live.
The city has been prolific in its securing nearly $4 million in federal grants and county assistance over the last two years. Because of these awards, the city is now in a position to make a number of significant improvements. One of these improvements is the repaving of College Avenue, which is nearly complete. This project used $850,000 of grant funds to pay for the installation of ADA curb ramps at all intersections and the repaving of College Avenue from Statehouse Circle to Washington Avenue. There are also plans and grant commitments for similar projects along the Broadway corridor (2017 and 2018), Washington Avenue (2018 and 2019), and the north end of State Street (2019 and 2020). Additionally, we recently applied for $1.2 million in federal funds to rebuild the failing brick road at William Street; a project we would otherwise not be able to afford (and fully funded by outside sources if approved). Other road repairs in the city’s residential areas also are being addressed by our Street Department crews. We are working on overlaying sections of Douglas Court, Blair Street, Clawson Avenue, Muny Vista, Aberdeen and Joliet Street in 2016. Without the purchase of new equipment in 2014 and hiring of additional staff in 2016, these repairs would not be possible. By retooling our Street Department, the citizens can now see a more responsive and aggressive effort by the city to maintain and restore its rights of way.
However, it is not just roads and sidewalks where one can see the impact of our commitment, but also in the aging city parks. In 2014, the city combined the Park Maintenance Department with the Public Works Department. This action has created synergies that have led to improved efficiencies in the upkeep and redevelopment of our parks. Our park staff has shown its dedication to its facilities by building pavilions, fixing roofs, repairing fountains, rebuilding ball diamonds. Even with the improved maintenance schedules and revived commitment, we still require outside sources to help fund improvements to our parks. By seeking and securing nearly $1.2 million in grants last year, the public works department has secured monies to improve the entrance to Gordon Moore Park in 2017 ($850,000) and construct Phase I of a new pedestrian and bicycle path in Rock Spring Park ($320,000) which is currently under way. The Parks Department has utilized Madison County Park Enhancement Program funds to pay for a new ball diamond at Rock Spring, make repairs at Gordon Moore and repave the Killion basketball courts. Additionally, we can expect the improvements to Riverview Park and the Lucy Haskell House to be completed this year. While citizens may be able to see the restoration of our above-ground facilities, the sewer infrastructure is rarely visible but equally valuable.
The systems that carry the storm and sanitary waters from our homes and rights of way is perhaps one of the most used and least appreciated — until it fails. Our sewer maintenance crews recently have updated their equipment in an effort to address the problems of our aging and outdated collection systems. The recent storms and torrential rains have burdened our sewers to a critical point. Often we get complaints of cavities in streets and near sidewalks with which we respond by placing barricades at the site. This response may seem passive; however, it is not. Our Sewer Division must investigate each occurrence to verify that filling the hole will not block a sewer line, causing greater damage. Although the brunt of the maintenance falls on our crews, we do undertake many projects to upgrade our system. Recently, the city has worked to renew and replace sewers along Broadway, College Avenue, State Street, 11th Street, Forrest Drive and Piasa Street. We are working on Phase 1 of the combined sewer separation project on State Street and plans are in the works to replace the Blair Street main in 2016.
This is just a fraction of the responsibilities that are tasked of the Public Works Department. Each day we encounter new challenges that require innovative ideas and the expertise of our staff. Public Works takes pride in maintaining and redeveloping our roads, parks and sewer systems; it is not merely a job, but a duty. Our efforts have demonstrated that we are committed to the continued revival of our city’s streets, parks and all of its infrastructure. With all of the construction, development and modernization of our city, this is an exciting time to be a resident of our great city and our Public Works Department looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead. Robert Barnhart is Alton’s public works director.