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Non-standard sidewalks unwelcome in East Austin neighborhood

Friday, August 1, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Members of an East Austin neighborhood association claim city officials are shortchanging them on a sidewalk project. City officials say their goal was to provide a safer alternative for residents of the Pecan Springs/Springdale Hills neighborhood, but residents say the sidewalks built along East Martin Luther King Blvd are unsafe and need to be replaced.

 The sidewalks were a joint City of Austin/Texas Department of Transportation project because East MLK is a state roadway. According to Assistant City Manager Robert Goode, there were no sidewalks along MLK between Airport Boulevard and US 183 prior to the $976,000 project that began in 2007 and was recently completed.

 

DeWayne Lofton, president of the Pecan Springs/Springdale Hills Neighborhood Association, says the sidewalks the city installed are substandard, and dangerous.

 

“They came out a couple of years ago and began putting sidewalks in the area between Perez Street and 183,” Lofton said. “But they only built sidewalks in the areas that were flat, where there’s no grade or slope to the street.”

Lofton said city officials told him they could not put sidewalks in the areas with steep grades, and that they would have to go back and reconfigure the plans in order to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the city resumed work on the sidewalks in March or April of this year.
 

“We thought OK, now they’re going to finally finish these sidewalks,” Lofton said. “But what they did to try and get around the ADA was instead of building the sidewalk in the right of way – which is where you would expect it to be – they attached it essentially to the side of the road. And the reason they gave us is that there is a provision in the ADA that says if the sidewalk matches the grade of the road, then they are not required to meet the ADA standards.”
 

Assistant City Manager Goode, in a memo this week to Council members, said the city’s initial plan for the sidewalks had placed them in the right-of-way. He said that after TxDOT assessed the field conditions, they determined “that the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements could not be met for the ramp slopes at the intersecting streets.”

 

To alleviate the condition, Goode wrote, TxDOT relocated the sidewalk in its current position adjacent to the roadway. He cited other incidences where sidewalks were built in similar fashion, including South Lamar Boulevard and Dessau Road. He said that type of installation is consistent with COA and TXDOT standards when conditions preclude separated sidewalks.
 

“Apparently, they determined that it was going to cost too much to build the sidewalks over in the right-of-way where they belong,” Lofton said. “To do it right, they would have to build up the grade, put in landings, and put in drainage and all that stuff, but they just decided that they didn’t want to spend the money.”

However, Lofton maintains that sidewalks that sit on the edge of the roadway, especially along 50-mph roads such as East MLK, are extremely dangerous.

“Traffic on this street is in excess of 60 miles per hour almost all of the time,” he said. “The speed limit is 50 but it’s rare that you find anybody traveling along there doing less than 60. You have many commercial trucks – 18-wheelers, dump trucks, cement trucks – that utilize that road. In addition, with putting the sidewalk next to the road the way they have, someone is going to be killed. Those vehicles create so much wind when they drive by, someone’s going to be sucked into the road.”

Goode told Council members that it would cost more than $2 million to remove the completed sidewalk and replace it with one that complies with the ADA. He said that sidewalk in place “meets all engineering and safety criteria for both the city and TxDOT.”

However, Lofton said that the city is essentially telling his neighborhood that is should be happy that it has any sidewalk at all, and to quit complaining.

“It’s like the city going to some day care center with a bunch of toys that they know have lead paint on them, and saying “These kids don’t have any toys, so we’ll give them these,” he said. “But when it’s discovered they have lead on them, the city says “Well, at least they got some toys.”

Lofton said he plans to continue to press the issue with city officials.

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