Columbia residents raise concerns about sidewalk replacements at public meeting

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | 10:06 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Charles Dudley has taken a personal interest in Columbia's sidewalks.

Dudley, a Columbia resident, said rough sidewalks can be hard on wheelchairs. Dudley has friends who use wheelchairs, and he sometimes uses a power chair to get around because of his back.

“We’re not looking for smooth as glass, but it shouldn’t tear up a wheelchair,” Dudley said.

To voice his concerns, Dudley attended a meeting held by the Department of Public Works on Wednesday night addressing the last phase of sidewalk rehabilitation for a portion of east-central Columbia. 

The meeting allowed residents to see maps of the proposed rehabilitation and give comments to the department before the project is brought before the City Council at a public hearing later this spring.

The projects under discussion for Phase III include replacing portions of the sidewalk along the following streets: Broadway, Bass Avenue, and Windsor, Melbourne, Ripley, Pratt, William, Locust and Waugh streets.

Phases I and II included the replacement of certain sidewalks along College Avenue, Broadway, and Paquin, Anthony and Walnut streets. 

Phase III will be funded by the Community Development Block Grant. The construction cost of this project is budgeted at $307,513.

Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said Phase I and Phase II were completed in 2009 and 2010 respectively and were also funded by the block grant. She said the cost of the first two phases was $466,022.

Dudley said he is involved with the Columbia Disabilities Commission, and he became involved in the rehabilitation project during its first phase.

Overall, Dudley said he supports the project and that there have been big improvements in accessibility in the area over the years. He said his main concern with the plan is that it does not fix areas from the first phase that are already beginning to deteriorate. He said to continue without repairing those areas is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“It doesn’t make sense to build new when there are old projects needing repair,” Dudley said.

Project designer David Watson said he was surprised by the complaint that part of the sidewalk replaced in the first phase was cracked and that it is an area that needs to be looked at again. 

Columbia landlord Kurt Albert said his life’s work has been turning around the neighborhood where he owns property on Windsor Street.

“I’m in favor of the project, but I want to see the cost kept down,” he said.

Albert said he thinks 4-foot-wide sidewalks are adequate and replacing them with 5-foot sidewalks is unnecessary. He also said he was concerned that certain areas in the plan don’t need to be fully replaced because the problems in them are not widespread. In hard economic times, Albert said the plan should be more selective about what portions of the sidewalk are replaced.

“My philosophy is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Albert said.

Watson said the department is trying to be frugal but there are a lot of tough decisions that need to be made.

“Safety, accessibility and being ADA compliant are the primary goals,” Watson said.

Watson said the next step is to review comments and information from the meeting and see if the department can address the concerns. He said he encourages the public to give feedback.

“It’s still in the preliminary stages," Watson said. "We still have time to make changes."

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