The long, costly road to sidewalks

Wendy Smith
Government/Politics columnist

Sidewalks: everybody wants them, but few will get them, unless the budget changes, or neighborhood groups band together to gift property to the city. That was the takeaway from an informational meeting presented to city council members by Public Works director David Brace last week.

The city’s budget for new sidewalks is approximately $750,000 per year. The cost of new sidewalks ranges from $100 to $300 per linear foot, depending on the challenges of the terrain and the cost of purchasing right-of-way.

Installing sidewalks isn’t simply a matter of laying down four feet of concrete. Sidewalks have to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and include a curb and gutter. Navigating steep grades, driveways, utility poles and bridges adds additional cost.

Sidewalks are always incorporated into new road projects, but that doesn’t offer much hope to neighborhood groups that want sidewalks.

Brace passed out a list of 165 requested sidewalks. The combined 75 miles of desired sidewalk would cost $139 million, said Engineering director Jim Hagerman.

Each sidewalk request receives a rating from the engineering department based on whether it’s in within a Parental Responsibility Zone (one mile from an elementary school or with 1.5 miles of a middle or high school), whether it’s a missing link between two other sidewalks, the area’s pedestrian usage, the road classification and whether it provides access to public transportation.

Requests are placed on the list based on scoring of the above items. There’s a misconception that it’s a priority list, said Vice Mayor and City Council representative Duane Grieve.

The list is a guiding tool, but decisions are based on available funds and circumstances, said Deputy to the Mayor/Chief Operating Officer Christi Branscom.

Five items on the list have top scores of 13. The least expensive of those is a $437,500 project on Fairview Street that was requested in December 2008. Two of the top scoring projects have price tags that exceed $1 million.

A Sheffield Drive project that’s been prominently supported by West Hills neighbors has a score of 10 and is 35th on the list. The estimated cost is $1.29 million.

The most expensive project is a $6.7 million sidewalk on Holston Hills Road that’s 19,400 linear feet. It’s 120th on the list.

City Council representative Nick Della Volpe asked if other cities are facing similar challenges. Branscom said a lack of sidewalks is prevalent in the Southeast, where development tends to be spread out.

A few ideas were batted about. Hagerman brought up a local option gas tax to fund sidewalks. Brace said cost would be reduced if a neighborhood group agreed to donate right-of-way for a sidewalk.

If that happened, the project would move up the list, Branscom said.

There was also a brief discussion of including sidewalks in new subdivision requirements. City Council representative George Wallace said there would be some pushback from developers, but that’s okay.

Branscom said sidewalks would be bonded to ensure that developers follow through.

“We’ll need your support,” she told city council members.

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