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City to widen road in growing corridor

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A vital Germantown road will be widened in less than two years largely to make way for a future elementary school.

The Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Monday night to invest more than $6 million in roadway improvements to Forest Hill-Irene Road, which runs north to south from Wolf River Blvd. to Mississippi.

Improvements to the 7-mile road will be from Winchester to Poplar Pike and from Forest Hill Lane to Farmoor Road.

Construction of a new elementary school just south of Poplar Pike accelerated the project, which is estimated to take 18 months.

The first section, from Winchester to Poplar Pike, will be converted into a four-lane road with a median. There will also be bicycle lanes, sidewalks and curbs.

The second section will feature a center turn lane and shoulders on both sides.

Board members voted 4-0 for the improvements, with Alderman Dean Massey abstaining.

“I am for a new school to reduce the overcrowding,” Massey said. “But I am not for this project. As far as widening the road, I think it significantly changes the character of that area.

“I think that this was planned long before the new school site was ever chosen,” he continued. “The city is now using the new school as the impetus to force everyone into approving the road widening because, at this point, if we’re not for this road widening the argument would be that we’re actually against the school, which is not true.”

Massey advised the board to temporarily stop the project and “engage the public.”

There are 27 property owners that the city must acquire easements from in order to continue the project.

Twenty one have already accepted the city’s offers and Germantown is still in negotiations with the other six.

Alderman Forrest Owens said the city is trying to provide a “basic service” for the community.

“This has been no secret,” he said. “We’ve been in this process for some time. The school has been no secret. We are providing a basic government service in providing roadways to service the school and provide safe access to that school. It is very simple to me.”

City Engineer Tim Gwaltney called the segment of roadway near the future school the “most critical.”

“With the school scheduled to open next August,” he said, “this segment has a timeline of less than 12 months to coincide with the opening of the new school.”

The city previously approved a “corridor study” from October 2016 to May 2017. Last June, city staff was told to proceed with the design phase of the project.

Alderman John Barzizza asked Gwaltney how many meetings were held between city staff and area residents regarding the project.

“One public meeting was held,” he said. “Then plans were put online for public comment.”

Owens said that residents have had “adequate time” to influence the project.

“We’ve provided ample opportunity for the citizens to provide input,” he noted.

Alderman Rocky Janda said he spoke to Gwaltney six years ago about safety concerns on Forest Hill-Irene.

“I don’t think we’re rushing into anything here,” he said, “or do we need to make it political. We need to move forward.”

Mayor Mike Palazzolo said the project has been a long time coming.

“The school precipitated the widening,” he noted, “but since the land was annexed, developments have occurred over time. That’s why you see the jigsawing of that roadway. The road has always been planned to be widened to some specification. That’s been ongoing for close to 20 years.”

Gwaltney agreed that the future school “brought forth the urgency of the widening.”

“But the existing traffic, without the school, showed that what we’re proposing makes this infrastructure necessary,” he said.

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