The city of Mount Airy is preparing to launch major, much-needed utility upgrades in the downtown area using $1.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
This includes $987,500 for what is known as the West Side Main Street Water Improvements Project and $512,500 for a sewer project in the same area, both targeting the replacement of aging lines, according to Public Works Director Mitch Williams.
Though originating through a national source, Congress, the money is coming from a state agency, the Department of Environmental Quality.
The water project will include the replacement of existing water mains that serve Franklin Street, Willow Street, Virginia Street and West Oak Street. The sewer portion is to involve replacing existing mains on those streets.
These lines are some of the oldest in the city, where it can least afford problems due to the impact on the central business district, and have been a source of concern for years.
This included, for example, a discussion among municipal officials more than 10 years ago — in March 2012 — when they sought to address what had been termed a “ticking time bomb” regarding the aging facilities.
“One day, they’re going to break and Main Street is going to be blocked for two months,” then-Commissioner Dean Brown said of a worst-case scenario.
Another commissioner, the late Scott Graham, agreed. “One of these days it’s going to reach up and bite us,” Graham said of the problem that has been easy to ignore because of being underground and therefore out of sight.
The line replacements are finally ready to proceed, using the $1.5 million initially announced late last year in conjunction with the adoption of a state budget.
With the funding recently received, the present group of commissioners took action at a meeting last week to move forward with the respective utility projects.
This was accompanied by votes officially accepting the ARPA water-sewer funds and awarding contracts for planning and design services related to the two projects to The Lane Group.
City staff members had solicited requests for quotes from private engineering firms to provide those functions, with Lane the only one to do so in each case.
Yet staff members were comfortable with The Lane Group’s involvement, since it has a past working relationship with Mount Airy on large annexation and water-sewer rehabilitation projects. That firm possesses an “extensive knowledge” of the city utility system and always has been quick to respond to any conflicts arising during construction, a memo from Williams adds.
The Lane Group was awarded a $100,400 planning/design contract for the water project and one of $56,000 for the sewer work.
The American Rescue Plan Act funding for the utility improvements is separate from another $3.2 million received by Mount Airy in ARPA COVID relief which largely is earmarked for building repairs and equipment additions among the various municipal departments.