by Terry Rogers
At a recent workshop, Milford City Council discussed the sidewalk strategic plan. This plan addressed gaps in sidewalks throughout the city and will be used in conjunction with the newly adopted Bicycle Master Plan. Although council could not make any decisions in the workshop, they received detailed information on what a 10- to 20-year sidewalk plan would look like in order to create a more walkable city.
“We also wanted to determine prioritization for sidewalk installation, analyze the level of improvements needed to construct sidewalks in the desired locations,” Rob Pierce, City Planner, said. Also, we reviewed all of our current capital projects for state capital projects and private development that may impact closing some of these sidewalk gaps. And then, we also wanted to cover evaluating our current CIP and how we can address the remaining gaps that are not really taken into account at this time, and then also kind of lay out the financial ramifications for the sidewalk gap installation and who would be financially responsible.”
Mayor Archie Campbell stated that he had gotten into a few heated discussions regarding who is responsible for installing and maintaining sidewalks, pointing out that many property owners are unaware they own the sidewalk and are responsible for them. Pierce stated that he did not want the discussion to focus on the sidewalk maintenance program, preferring to go over the strategic plan. He then discussed the various priorities his department created regarding what sidewalk gaps should be addressed initially.
“We generally tried to break it into three levels; a high priority area, a kind of a medium priority area and a low priority area because really, we shouldn’t be trying to analyze and budget and come up with an implementation strategy for very low priority sidewalks that are many years down the road from being needed for any kind of movement of our residents,” Pierce said. “But we still show them on the overall plan. But really, we tried to remove those to see something more tangible, something that we really want to focus on. So, this is where, again, we are looking into getting some feedback from council. Generally, I tried to use the high priority area that was outlined in previous pedestrian and bicycle master plan in that area that we call the town center. So, it would be everything kind of east of 113, west of Rehoboth Boulevard south of 10th Street, including some of those areas around the high school and then north of like the McCoy Street that stop sign at Elks Lodge Road and Marshall Street. That really encompasses a lot of your older portions of town that really should be traditionally walkable. That’s where the majority of our schools are, the libraries, the park systems, and really that’s where a lot of people should try to walk some of the additional neighborhoods that are to the south and east.”
Pierce explained that although the goal was to have more connectivity to town, some of that could be achieved using the Bicycle Master Plan which includes multi use paths designed not only for bicycles but for pedestrians as well. He also stated that some of the low priority projects would include pedestrian paths that would connect Beaver Dam Road, parts of Route 30, Rehoboth Boulevard, Marshall’s Pond as well as Bayhealth Sussex Campus and Milford Ponds.
Councilman Jason James felt that the planning office “nailed it” when they developed priorities that addressed the downtown area and gaps near schools where people may be walking in traffic. Councilman Mike Boyle asked if requiring those who had received sidewalk waivers to install them in the past could help address some of the sidewalk gaps.
“Those were temporary waivers. I think I can count on one hand the number of temporary waivers we’ve issued since I’ve been here,” Pierce said. “So, each one of those would be maybe 50 feet each. So, I don’t think when you look at the numbers, those would be generally in this high priority area except for maybe the Mosquito Control submission, but when you look at the overall numbers, it doesn’t put a huge dent into it, but it would help and we could certainly look at those if we’re if we’re working on a stretch of the road to finish off some sidewalk we could call them in to put it in.”
Once staff had completed prioritization of sidewalk gaps, they looked at which project would be the easiest to install. Pierce stated that areas that already have curbing simply needed the sidewalk and small grass section added while those that had no curb would be a little more difficult. A third level would be those that would actually become street projects. Some of these may need road widening, there may be draining issues or physical encroachments that would make it difficult to place sidewalks.
“The next evaluation we did was we looked at and populated these line segments with information and data on our current five year CIP,” Pierce said. “Basically, we analyzed the projects that the Public Works department, including Mike Svaby and James Pettigrew who have been working in terms of street rehab projects, and we populated their projected dates into the dataset. We also looked at the DelDOT Capital Improvements Plan for any kind of projects they have on the horizon for city streets that would include construction of sidewalks. We also considered the DelDOT TAP project that we have fully designed and waiting to be bid out on Northeast Front Street. We also tried to weed out any private development that may come along that could install these sidewalk gaps at the cost of the developer and tried to remove those from the equation.”
Some of the smaller projects will be addressed in the 2022 sidewalk repair program, Pierce explained. About 27 segments which may include connecting sidewalks between neighbors or installing a sidewalk on one city block. Other areas would be addressed over the next five years. Councilman Brian Baer suggested adjusting the priority as some areas near Mispillion and Lulu Ross Elementary Schools were very low on the priority list. Pierce pointed out that this was why the sidewalk information was being presented to council at the workshop so they could begin formulating a plan to address the sidewalk gaps. Pierce then presented a breakdown of the costs to correct the sidewalk gaps in town.
Within the easy sidewalk construction just in the high priority area, we’re looking at 24,000 feet of sidewalk needed and based on a $75 per linear foot for a five foot wide sidewalk, we’re looking at about $1.8 million just for sidewalk,” Pierce said. “If you add in the areas that we needed, installed curb and sidewalk, there’s another 12,000 feet needed. And assuming $150 per linear foot of curb and five-foot sidewalk, here again at a minimum of $1.8 million. The difficult projects, those are going to be dependent on the scope of work needed so we didn’t attempt to try to budget or come up with cost estimates for those because there’s a lot of variables involved.”
In terms of future implementation, Pierce stated that in the five-year Capital Improvement Projects, there was a line item for the Sidewalk Connectivity Initiative.
“We’ve allocated this year and in the next four years or over the five year life of the CIP $100,000 each year for that initiative. But one of the policy questions that we have and we’ll need some guidance on is how should the sidewalk gap construction be paid for? And there’s basically three options,” Pierce said. “Option one would be sidewalks for sidewalk gaps will be fully paid for by the property owner. Option two would be sidewalk gaps would be partially subsidized by the city similar to what is done for the sidewalk repair program. Or the third option which would be the sidewalk gap installation would be funded and paid for by the city. In any of these three options we would take advantage of any state or federal grant funding that we could apply for and get awarded. And that would include Safe Routes to Schools Program, CDBG, Community Development Block Grants and even CTF funds from representatives can be used for sidewalk gap or sidewalk construction. So, this is the loaded question. What direction, what’s Council’s opinion on which direction staff should go in terms of paying for construction for closure of the sidewalk?”
Councilman James stated that, regardless which of the three options were adopted, normal maintenance and repair of the sidewalk once it was installed fell to the property owner and Pierce confirmed that was the way the ordinance currently read. Councilman Dan Marabello asked if completing the entire project required 10 or 20 years. City Manager Mark Whitfield replied that the project would be managed similar to the recent road analysis.
“Basically, what we did was we took a look at all the streets that were rated in poor condition and did a per linear foot cost estimate for each one of those streets, totaled it all up and it came out to be roughly, I believe around $4.7 million somewhere and we divided it by five and came up with roughly $830,000 a year that was needed just to take care of all the streets that were in poor condition over the next five years,” Whitfield said. “And I guess that’s part of the policy question that council will need to wrestle with is how fast you want to do this where we’ve talked about making Milford a walkable community, having safe sidewalks. I think we’ve made giant steps, literally, in the last couple years and addressed hazardous sidewalks, getting them fixed. And looking at a handicap ramps where they need to be installed and identifying those when we are completing streets.”
Whitfield continued, pointing out that when the city repaired streets, they did not just repair the street itself. He explained that they also performed utility repairs when necessary as well as curbing and sidewalks whenever they were necessary.
“If we wanted to try to take a bite out of this apple that our goal was to get it all done over the next 10 years, that’s a pretty heavy lift. So, you look at property owner participation in some way,” Whitfield said. “And I think there’s a fairness question that has to be answered. I mean, everyone that has sidewalks in front of their property, someone paid to put those sidewalks in and typically it was the original property owner or subsequent property owners that paid to put that sidewalk in. It would be a benefit if the city did all these gaps for all the property owners, to those property owners, whereas other property owners didn’t get that benefit. So, again, that’s a policy question that I think council has to wrestle with in developing an overall strategy of how we want to tackle this. This is a big project and it’s a lot of money. But I think what you have, at the end of the day, whether it’s 15 years from now or 25 years from now is a more walkable community.”
Pierce stated that council could choose to start out with an initial allotment over the next five years to see where the city is at the end of that time. If there is enough support from the public and it seems to gain popularity, funding may be able to increase to do more projects each year. City Solicitor David Rutt reminded council they could not make any decisions in a workshop but that the plan would need to be presented at a council meeting and public comment would be required.
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