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Austin can afford to build only 3% of the 2,580 miles of sidewalk it wants, audit finds

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

The city of Austin has the resources to build out only 3 percent of its missing sidewalks, according to a new city audit.

The mobility bond Austin voters approved in 2016 set aside $37.5 million to build and maintain city sidewalks over an eight-year period, but the audit released today suggests the Public Works Department is spending that money more quickly than anticipated. The city’s 2016 Sidewalk Master Plan, which has guided sidewalk projects, identified 2,580 miles of missing sidewalks in the city. All told, that $37.5 million could construct only 40 to 60 miles of sidewalk.

But the auditor’s office notes the Public Works Department did well following the master plan’s recommendations last year. Four miles of sidewalk were built in District 1, the most in any district, followed by 2.6 in District 4 and 2.2 in District 9.

Not all sidewalk construction is funded by that pot of $37.5 million. Projects along state-owned roads, like the ongoing North Lamar project, secured state money in addition to city bond money for sidewalks. Other projects are funded by the city’s fee-in-lieu program, which allows construction projects (more often than not, by homeowners) to pay the city not to build sidewalks. That money is then set aside for neighborhood sidewalks. The city also partners with Capital Metro and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on sidewalk projects.

The audit also says the city doesn’t effectively track small-scale sidewalk projects, so some projects aren’t accounted for. These projects don’t always use proper inspection forms and are tracked “in a spreadsheet instead.”

Finally, the audit suggests, city engineers and crews need an inspection process to make sure they’re in line with the state’s disability access rules. Eighty-five percent of sidewalk projects were undertaken by contractors last year, and those contractors are required to follow the state’s building codes to ensure accessibility. The audit says the Public Works Department doesn’t have that requirement for city-designed or -constructed sidewalks.

“The Sidewalks Division has no process to identify which sidewalks should receive accessibility inspections, when these inspections should happen, and how they should be documented,” the audit noted.

The full findings of the report will be presented to the city’s Audit and Finance Committee this morning.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Map courtesy of the Office of the City Auditor, photo by Julia Reihs / KUT.

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