'); } -->
Shortly before leaving office last year, former Mayor Charles Meeker oversaw a major change to the way the city handles sidewalk maintenance.
No longer are residents billed individually for repairs to sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses. Instead, the city pays for the work using a pot of money set aside in the annual budget.
“I think getting rid of the sidewalk assessment is going to be popular,” Meeker said after his final state-of-the-city address last March.
Want a sidewalk fixed?
Call the public works department at 919-996-6446 or visit raleighnc.gov and type “sidewalk repair” to get a request form.
He was certainly right.
Since individual sidewalk bills were eliminated, Raleigh public works officials have fielded more than 1,000 requests for repairs – and now face a backlog of about 400 work orders.
“They are feeling a little overwhelmed,” transportation planning manager Eric Lamb said at a recent meeting. “At the same time, those are gaps in the network that are getting fixed.”
Home and business owners had complained for years about unexpected bills from the city, from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, to fix broken sidewalks in their neighborhoods.
The approach needed to change, said Councilman Russ Stephenson, who argued that sidewalks are part of the transportation system, just like roads and bridges.
“The light bulb went on for people that it didn’t make a lot of sense in our attempts to create a more walkable, urban environment,” he said. “If we can promote these other kinds of mobility, we should be doing it.”
Now the city pays the whole cost. A transportation bond approved by voters last year included $4.75 million to pave more than seven miles of city-initiated sidewalk projects, $3 million for sidewalks requested by residents and $4 million for sidewalk repairs.
The new program was part of the final budget passed by Meeker, who championed millions in spending for greenways, bike lanes and mass transit.
The flood of requests for sidewalks does not come as a surprise, City Manager Russell Allen said in an interview. “We knew it would generate a lot more interest from folks once they knew they wouldn’t have to pay for it,” he said.
A new method is helping speed the response.
The city hired Precision Safe Sidewalks, a company that uses a horizontal saw to slice off protruding portions of sidewalk pushed up by tree roots. The result is a level surface that reduces the odds of someone tripping.
While doing the work, the company vacuums dust and debris to avoid dirtying up nearby homes, lawns and parked cars.
The company charges $3.79 per square foot. Competing firms wanted to charge $20 to $36 to replace entire slabs, said Chris McGee, a field services manager for public works.
“For the city to have any chance at repairing the damaged sidewalk in a reasonable amount of time, at a reasonable cost, this is going to be the way we are looking to go,” McGee said.
A test project this spring in the Oakwood neighborhood drew positive reviews. Last year, residents did their own survey and found half of Oakwood’s three miles of sidewalks were damaged, said resident Susan Bray. Crews are now making repairs.
“Everybody loves the tree-lined streets,” she said. “But they do cause problems on the other end. The (tree) roots can wreak some havoc.”
The fixes are only temporary. There is no warranty, and the upgrades typically last for five to 10 years, McGee said, giving the city more time to budget for more extensive repairs.
Council members Thomas Crowder and John Odom opposed the short-term approach. Crowder said the level of repair falls short of requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Raleigh has already identified $32 million worth of sidewalk projects that need cash to proceed. In January, the city will pass its first-ever pedestrian plan – a blueprint for improving sidewalks, crosswalks, crossing signals and trails.
The to-do list emerged from multiple rounds of public input. Council members are mulling another transportation bond referendum next fall to address the long list of needs.