The folks who worship at Lincoln City Church have been asking the county to pave South First Street, the road in front of their church, for almost two decades.
Children in the church who weren’t even born when members first started asking for a paved road are about to graduate from high school, Pastor Solo Mwania told the Lancaster County Board at a recent hearing.
The gravel road is dusty in the summer, muddy when it rains, slippery in snow, and generally an inconvenience to a church community aimed at growing its congregation.
People invited to attend a service frequently have trouble finding the church because they don't expect a gravel road, said Mwania, who is called Pastor Solo.
The 300 church members are committed, so they tolerate the gravel road, “but it would help a great deal if it were paved,” he and other church members have told the County Board year after year.
Members are becoming “disheartened,” Mwania said during this year’s public hearing on the county road and bridge plan. He was joined at the hearing by about a dozen parishioners.
Ten years ago, paving South First Street between Old Cheney Road and Pioneers Boulevard was at least on the county’s long-range plans. “Now it’s not even on the radar,” he said.
“I’m sad I don’t have the money to help them because I love them,” County Engineer Pam Dingman said about the church’s consistent plea for a paved road.
What she has is a limited budget and 28 miles of heavily traveled road — more than 300 cars a day — that warrant paving, plus a number of closed or problem bridges that need to be replaced, Dingman said.
That area of South First Street has about 102 vehicles a day. But that does not include Sunday traffic, Mwania notes.
This year the proposed county bridge and road plan has no paving projects. The road funding is being used to replace closed bridges and work on bridges with serious problems.
An infrastructure task force that studied county roads and bridges this year recommended the county focus its dollars on system reliability and getting closed roads back open, rather than new pavement, Dingman noted.
So over the next year, the county will focus on roads where bridges have been closed, she said.
And there are other county residents clamoring for road work.
Waverly Mayor Mike Werner and Waverly School Superintendent Cory Worrell were at the recent road and bridge plan hearing to ask the county to improve Fletcher Avenue as a way to get truck traffic off Amberly Road, where there are children crossing to get to school.
The County Board has yet to modify or approve that plan.
It's not likely the church will get its paved street.
Lincoln City Church is across from the county-owned, city-run Wilderness Park and less than a half-mile from the city limits.
So church members keep hoping their land might be annexed by the city and then the street might get paved.
Annexation would mean the church and its neighbors would have to ask that the street be paved and then share in the paving cost, an estimated $6 million a mile.
The church would certainly consider this option if it were available, according to Mwania.
Right now the church’s 28 acres are not adjacent to the city limits, a requirement for annexation.
But in two years the city will be extending the sewer line down Old Cheney Road, likely prompting development nearby and annexation, said Andrew Thieroff, a city planner.
Until then, the church will be appealing to county leaders for consideration, hoping they will take into account the church's contributions to the community.
“We are making a difference in this community,” Mwania said.