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UTC panel wants city to fund completion of sidewalk network

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

An Urban Transportation Commission subcommittee wants the city to ramp up its financial commitment to complete the city’s sidewalk network, a proposal that will likely cost more than $800 million before it’s done.


Eileen Schaubert chairs the subcommittee, which also includes Sheila Holbrook-White and Allen Demling. The trio discussed a resolution proposed by Amy Babich, who also addressed Council recently about the need for a full sidewalk system.


The general purpose of the resolution appeared to be to raise the profile of the sidewalk system, which Babich estimated would take 200 years to complete if the city continued to spend only $5 million a year. One current estimate pegs the cost of completing the full sidewalk system at around $824 million.


Former commissioner Tommy Eden was at the meeting last week also. The last time the city passed a significant commitment to sidewalk building, Eden and staffer Annick Beaudet recalled, was a resolution in 2002 that required sidewalk building to be a part of construction or reconstruction of a street, as long as it cost no more than 20 percent of the total construction package.


Funding for sidewalks, even from a bond election package perspective, has been haphazard. In her resolution, Babich proposed increasing sidewalk funding tenfold, to $50 million a year, for at least 20 years. In the initial resolution, the suggestion was that funding should come from bonds, starting with the 2010 bond election, as well as clean air and climate plan funds currently spent on other sources.


The subcommittee did not land on an amount it wanted but the group did agree that sidewalk construction should be accelerated and consistent, Schaubert said.


Holbrook-White suggested the resolution ought to urge the city to be more aggressive with its pursuit of other funding for the construction of sidewalks. She suggested a more aggressive pursuit of federal funds, such as funding for safe routes to schools and ADA compliance.


The city also should have a better-defined relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation, Holbrook-White said, adding that the relationship had improved with the creation of the new city transportation department. Holbrook-White suggested a memo between the city and TxDOT, making sure the city has a role in the relationship and a priority for sidewalk construction.


Sidewalk construction typically is limited to the actual sidewalk construction and curb cuts. The subcommittee, at Demling’s suggestion, wants to expand that definition to be more of a “pedestrian facility,” which would include streetscape, pedestrian crossings and light timing.


The group also agreed with Babich’s proposal that sidewalk variances should be examined more carefully and discouraged whenever possible.


The resolution will return to the subcommittee, which meets every two months. Schaubert was not certain whether the resolution, once approved by the full Urban Transportation Commission, should go to staff or Council. The resolution may or may not be finished before the city’s 2010 bond package is proposed, but the group agreed the principles could guide future construction.

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