City plans to repair, construct more sidewalks

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A city’s walkability is one of its most crucial attributes to its vitality.

For the first time in Fort Wayne’s history, the mayor dedicated funds specifically to sidewalk repairs and construction, including $75,000 for trip hazard repairs with a 2-inch heave or greater, $600,00 for neighborhood sidewalk improvements and $250,000 for the street department’s trip hazard repair.

One of the reasons a focus was put on sidewalks in recent years is a result of the mayor’s goals for the city, which currently has 1,600 miles of sidewalks.

“[Mayor Tom Henry] is very tied to the neighborhoods. He was on City Council for 20 years … he has a large family that lives all over the community,” said Frank Suarez, director of the public information division of public works and city utilities.

As part of efforts to make the city more accessible on foot, multiple sidewalk repair and creation projects were recently announced at a public work’s sidewalk talk presentation to the City Council. The presentation was hosted by Public Works Director Bob Kennedy, and the manager of transportation engineering, Mario Trevino.

Sidewalk repairs and construction are often initiated through resident complaints or surveys and, after evaluation, are put on the city’s to-do list or must undergo a petition process. Once a sidewalk project is on the city’s radar, it is prioritized based on the severity and the material of the street and sidewalk.

A common sidewalk issue includes upheaves, where part of the sidewalk becomes uneven with the ground, which creates a safety hazard. Trip hazard repairs involve multiple sidewalks in a given neighborhood with a sidewalk upheave of one and a half inches or smaller. Some of these repairs this past year included Arlington Heights, Pine Valley and Frances Slocum.

Many times, these types of sidewalk issues are caused by natural elements, like a tree root growing underneath a sidewalk. In these instances, a crew will use a horizontal saw to cut back the upheaved section of sidewalk and then fill and smooth the hole so it is flush with the remaining part of the sidewalk once more, said Kennedy.

If an upheave is greater than 2 inches, affects less than four squares of sidewalk and the street is made of asphalt, the street department’s concrete crew, funded by the motor vehicle highway fund, will remove and replace the sidewalk. For streets made of concrete, the job is bid out to various concrete companies in the area, who then also may consider repairs on the curbs and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant ramps on that street. Previous projects completed via a bid are repairs on Maumee Avenue and Lincoln Park.

Sidewalk repair needs that do not make the city’s list are addressed through petitions for a 50/50 cost-sharing program, an update Henry implemented from the original 60 percent resident, 40 percent city cost-sharing program from before. This is a way for residents to expedite the sidewalk repair process rather than waiting to gain recognition by the city. There are already 74 residents who have petitioned through the board of public works for 50 percent financing for repairs in 2017, the other 50 percent of which must be funded by the resident.

For entirely new sidewalk construction, the city community development’s “Walk Fort Wayne” plan looks at the major streets of Fort Wayne and considers where sidewalks are needed to better bridge the gaps, providing safer walking conditions around popular shopping centers and schools. Sidewalk construction on these roads is prioritized based on access and population density.

One of the major projects for the near future is at the intersection of Coliseum Boulevard and North Anthony Boulevard and on Illinois Road, Bluffton Road and Lake Avenue. Though the development team has many plans to make Fort Wayne more accessible by foot, the community often changes and so the plan must be adjusted each year accordingly, said Pam Holocher, director of planning and policy for Fort Wayne.