February 16, 2012 11:15:00 AM
Approximately 600 miles of roads meander through the county, and Lowndes County Road Manager Ronnie Burns knows them all. He hasn't figured out exactly how many road signs will have to be replaced under a new federal mandate, but he knows this much -- it's going to be a costly, time-consuming project.
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors learned more about the new requirements during Wednesday morning's meeting.
The Federal Highway Administration is demanding that road signs nationwide be replaced with retroreflective signs to increase their visibility at night and in inclement weather. By January 2015, all agencies must replace most of their road signs with the new ones, and by January 2018, the project must be complete.
That means new stop signs, speed limit signs, warning signs and a plethora of other signage designed to make the roadways safer for drivers.
County Engineer Bob Calvert said some cities have balked at the new mandate's staggering costs, with large municipalities estimating it will cost as much as $30 million to implement. It is not yet known how much the project will cost Lowndes County, but Calvert said Wednesday afternoon that no matter how much it costs, it will be too much.
"The funds we're getting are inadequate to do what needs to be done," Calvert said. "The county's doing the best they can."
He estimates that the current state funding the county receives would only allow roads to be maintained once every 25 years. By his best guess, the county will have to replace thousands of signs.
A county-initiated restriping project also aims to make the roads safer. Calvert said a "pot of money" -- specifically $6.8 million -- is available to complete a number of old projects as well as some new ones.
Approximately 96 miles of county roads receiving funding from the state aid highway fund will be restriped, and the new retroreflective signs will be placed at that time. Roads scheduled for asphalt resurfacing include Artesia Road, Border Springs Road, Lee Stokes Road, Ridge Road and Starkville Road.
Right-of-way issues are holding up projects on Ranson Road and Old West Point Road, Calvert told the supervisors.
The board of supervisors also heard a presentation on the Re-Entry Ready for Work program from Kamal Karriem, associate pastor of Stephens Chapel Baptist Church and a former Columbus city councilman.
The 12-week program is designed to help reduce recidivism by teaching former law offenders conflict resolution and "soft skills" including resume writing and interviewing.
He posed the same request to the supervisors that he recently made to the Columbus City Council, asking for support, encouragement and anything they can do to help the people who complete the program.
"I know the economy is tight, but we're surrounded by industry and fast food restaurants," Karriem said. "There is meaningful and honorable work, even if it's just mopping the floor."
Classes will begin Feb. 28 and will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays at Sim Scott Community Center from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Karriem said his prior brushes with the law have made him more aware of how devastating a blight on a person's record can be and how it impacts their families and their lives.
Karriem was given five years of probation and a 10-year suspended sentence in November 2005 after pleading guilty to charges of misusing city property. In 2008, he violated two terms of his probation when he tested positive for cocaine and failed to make monthly restitution payments to the Lowndes County Circuit Court.
He said he believes second chances and meaningful work can turn lives around.
"This is what has me pushing this (program) because it can work, and I know it has promise," Karriem said Wednesday afternoon.
The board of supervisors unanimously passed a resolution to lend moral support to Karriem's efforts.
The next board of supervisors meeting is Feb. 29 at 9 a.m. at the Lowndes County Courthouse. The courthouse is closed Monday in observance of Presidents Day.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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