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Monday, January 3,2011

Where the sidewalk ends

A state senator takes jabs at a $1.3 million infrastructure project trumpeted by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, Jan. 3 — Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero defended a proposed $1.3 million sidewalk
project along Waverly Road in the city and Lansing Township today
against an attack by state Sen. Rick Jones, who called it a “sidewalk
to nowhere.”

Bernero said it’s essential for public safety and connectivity.

A press release issued by Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge who was elected in November to represent the 24th District, calls the project “Virg’s sidewalk to nowhere” and says it is a poor use of tax dollars in stringent budget times.

“That’s what people are calling it, and they’re calling me very upset,” said Jones, whose district’s eastern boundary is Waverly Road. He called the $1.3 million price tag “astronomical.”

virg_waverly_1.jpg

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero standing on the pathway along Waverly Road in Lansing Township. A proposal before the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission would turn it into a sidewalk. Photo by Andy Balaskovitz.

Bernero held an interview at the Lansing Township site, where there is a foot path worn about 1 foot wide along Waverly Road.

“People are walking and biking along this road,” Bernero said pointing at the pathway. “This is just dangerous.”

But Jones isn’t buying it. “As usual, Mayor Virg is full of baloney. That beaten path is rarely traveled. People keep asking me, ‘Why is this needed?’”

Jones says the money could be spent on “more important” infrastructure projects, but he did not offer any specifics. “At this time, every tax dollar is very precious,” he said.

The project includes portions of the city and Lansing Township.

In Lansing Township, the sidewalk would start on the north side of the Grand River on Waverly Road, run north to Old Lansing Road and end at the west boundary of Grand River Park. In the city, bike lanes would be added between Mt. Hope Avenue and Waverly along Moores River Drive, as well as between Jolly Road and Moores River.

But the township portion is attracting the controversy.

Bernero went on to defend the project despite the city’s $15 million budget gap. The city and Lansing Township would split the costs, though there is potential for state and federal funding, Bernero said.

“Any project like this is tough. But this is about prioritizing efforts,” Bernero said. “Infrastructure is expensive, but you have to do the right thing.”

Bernero has promoted the project to encourage regional cooperation, as most of the project is in Lansing Township, not the city. He said he has received support from the township and the Ingham County Road Commission to go ahead with the project.

The project is before the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.

Bill Ballenger, political analyst for Inside Michigan Politics and resident of the Waverly Hills subdivision in Lansing Township where the proposed path is located, vehemently opposes the project.

“First of all, it’s a colossal waste of money. It’s one of the biggest boondoggles I’ve ever seen proposed by a municipal mayor in the state of Michigan,” he said.

Bernero said Ballenger is leading the “NIMBY” (Not In My Backyard) sentiment in the area.

Ballenger says in his 40 years of living in and around the neighborhood that no accidents have ever been reported.

“The idea that this is a hazard is canard,” Ballenger said. “It’s political cover for the real motive: build a sidewalk at other peoples’ expense for elite residents of the Moores River Drive area to walk up to the YMCA. They can just drive to the Y to exercise.”

He also denounces “regionalism” as pie-in-the-sky politics.

“Regionalism is great as a concept, but let’s face it: When you get down to it, it’s a, ‘You scratch my back now and maybe I’ll scratch your back later,’” he said, referring to the fact that Eaton, Ingham and Clinton counties are involved in Tri-County’s decision.

Ballenger and Jones also point to the fact that Bernero does not have a sidewalk on his own property near the Lansing Country Club, and that he does not have to worry about maintaining his own sidewalks.

“You talk about hypocrisy,” Ballenger said.

Bernero said he’d “love” to have a sidewalk and would be “happy to maintain it,” if he did.

Bernero said the project will take at least two years if approved.
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