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Old Cullowhee sidewalk stretch hinges on county match

The state Department of Transportation has agreed to pay 80 percent of the cost for a quarter-mile of sidewalks in old Cullowhee if Jackson County will chip in $9,000, or 20 percent of the overall price tag.

The DOT is building a new bridge over the Tuckasegee River in Cullowhee, a short distance upstream from the existing bridge. As part of the project, the road would be rebuilt from Central Drive to about the area of the Cullowhee Café, according to County Planner Gerald Green.

While the project calls for bike lanes and sidewalks on the bridge, it did not originally include sidewalks along the rest of the new road section.

But Green told commissioners this week that DOT has agreed to put them in if the county would share a portion of the cost.

Rick Bennett, owner of Cullowhee Real Estate and a member of CuRvE, a community group working to revitalize the area, urged commissioners to help with the sidewalks.

“We think the sidewalks are a phenomenal idea,” he said, adding that the new bridge would “change the face of Cullowhee.”

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He cited the low matching cost as generous “in these economic times.”

CuRvE has piggybacked on the bridge replacement to advance the idea of a riverfront park in Cullowhee. If built, the park would be multi-use, and likely include picnic tables, public beach access to the river and a boat launch. The bridge replacement, if designed properly, could facilitate the park, which in turn could jumpstart revitalization in Old Cullowhee.

Jackson commissioners, at Commissioners Mark Jones’ request, delayed a vote until fellow board member Joe Cowan could be present. The board is scheduled to make its decision at the August meeting. If commissioners do vote to pay for a portion of the sidewalks as requested, Green indicated the money would come out of next year’s fiscal year budget.

A vote of approval, County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners, would serve as “a commitment that in the future the commission would provide the funds.”

Construction is scheduled for April 2013.

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