Government helping out more with sidewalks

       These are good times for sidewalks in Colorado Springs. Just a few years ago, residents nearly always had to foot the bill for repairing the sidewalk in front of their houses. Now, through the the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) - funded by a regional 1 percent sales tax - they can at least get on a list to have the job done for free.
       Additionally, the city is working up a “Pedestrian Transportation Plan,” which “inventories missing sidewalks, locations in need of pedestrian ramps and identifies stairs and alley crossings that create a barrier,” according to Kristin Bennett of City Transportation Planning. “We will use this initial inventory to provide an overview of the existing pedestrian transportation system and identify system gaps and needs.” (Note: the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) includes city sidewalk conditions in its “Non-Motorized Plan” draft, recently put out for public review, but that plan, which is more regional in scope, uses older, less specific city sidewalk detail, according to PPACG staffers.)
       For residents of the older Westside or Mesa Springs who would like sidewalk repair/replacement, curb, gutter or pedestrian ramps, there is an extra opportunity: the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which has used federal funds for public improvements in those area's city-designated Neighborhood Strategy Areas (NSAs) for 20 years or more. (Note: The Mesa Springs NSA, will be phased out in the coming year. See story, this page.)
       The big catch in all this upbeat news is the lack of any guarantee that anyone's ailing (or missing) sidewalk need will be addressed right away. “There are more than 4,800 citizen requests in our database for the repair or replacement of existing sidewalks and curb/gutters,” according to Lori Leach of the City Street Division, which uses RTA funds in what's called the RTA Concrete Repair program. Most of these, she added in an e-mail exchange, have been logged since the RTA took effect in 2005.
       “Due to the large number of sidewalks, curbs and gutter in need of repair, a backlog does exist,” she said. “We are working diligently, with the funding that is available, to address these repairs as quickly and efficiently as possible. With the current backlog that exists, it will take several years to address all of these repairs.”
       The work is not done in order of who got on the list first. The city/RTA has a system that prioritizes repairs based on how badly the concrete has settled or is broken or chipped (see adjoining table). Priority 2s or 3s can be upgraded to Priority 1 if they have been cited in an accident claim, they impede use by the elderly or disabled, or they are near a hospital, school or bus stop.
       Of the 4,800 requests, only 81 sidewalks, curbs, gutter or pedestrian ramps rank as the highest priority, according to city information in November. Another 2,705 were Priority 2, with the remainder Priorities 3 or 4.
       But that doesn't mean the RTA and its contractors drive all over the city, finishing the P1 list before moving on to the P2s. As Leach explained, “The primary focus of the PPRTA's Concrete Repair Program is to repair/maintain concrete in advance of the RTA/city paving program. This program overlaps with the on-call concrete portion of the program, in that if we are already working in a given area, we will attempt to address any open citizen requests as funding allows (Specifically P1-P2 level requests).” After July, the concrete program shifts to working specifically from the Citizen Request List and repairing other adjoining concrete needs.”
       She added that just putting a request in does not waive people's responsibility for unsafe sidewalk conditions in front of their houses. “If there is a hazard on their property that needs attention, it is the homeowner's responsibility to address those concerns as soon as possible to mitigate their liability exposure,” Leach said. “They may decide to hire a licensed concrete contractor to do the repairs. However, we will not be able to reimburse them for this cost.”
       The CDBG program does not have as scientific a priority system. Based on past practices in the Westside and Mesa Springs NSAs, final decisions are made by city administrators following public input and their own analyses of an area's need.
       A separate city program, run through City Engineering, fills in missing sidewalks in strategic locations around the city. With relatively limited funding (about a quarter of a million dollars a year), the program goal is to “concentrate on higher traffic areas” where the most amount of sidewalk can be installed for the the least amount of money, explained program spokesperson Mike Chaves.
       The City Street Division and Engineering Department also have crews for concrete repairs and pedestrian ramp installation. Some of this work includes high-priority sidewalks or pedestrian ramp issues that were identified before 2005, Leach said.
       The Pedestrian Transportation Plan inventory is being collected through geographic information system (GIS) tools, as well as existing aerial photography and digital videography of the street system. Due for draft completion in six to eight months, the plan will be presented to neighborhood groups and eventually City Council, Kristin Bennett said.
       For more informationon on any of the programs discussed in this article, try the following numbers:
       - RTA Concrete Repair, Lori Leach, 385-5411.
       - CDBG, Don Sides, 385-6881.
       - City Engineering, 385-5918.
       - City Streets, 385-5934.
       - City Planning, 385-5905.

Westside Pioneer article