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KC Council members aim to answer bonds question on sidewalks: Whose gets fixed first?

Take a short tour and see some of Kansas City's sidewalk woes

The $150 million in planned sidewalk repairs on the April 4 election ballot would take homeowners off the hook for the cost of repairs, but the city will have to convince Kansas City voters the work is critical and can be done fairly across the ci
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The $150 million in planned sidewalk repairs on the April 4 election ballot would take homeowners off the hook for the cost of repairs, but the city will have to convince Kansas City voters the work is critical and can be done fairly across the ci

Kansas City Council members making the rounds to promote the April 4 bond issues election keep hearing one particular question that needs an answer.

How would the city determine whose sidewalks get fixed first?

The city needs to provide a more detailed answer sooner than later, say City Council members Jolie Justus and Katheryn Shields.

They each have proposed resolutions which they intend to craft into a single offer that they hope to get before the full council Thursday that will give the city more specific directions on how to prioritize the work.

“We want to continue to show accountability and increase trust,” Justus said.

The largest of the three bond issues on the ballot would raise $600 million, with $450 million for roads and bridges — and $150 million to repair sidewalks.

City officials have imagined the sidewalks portion of the bond issue would be particularly attractive to voters because the city would take on the cost of repairs that property owners have had to pay themselves under current policy. Those repairs generally cost $3,000 or more.

The question of priorities, however, is clearly on the minds of many of the voters.

“Everywhere we go, people are asking us, ‘How will you figure whose sidewalks get repaired first?’” Shields said. “We need a clearer idea on how that will be accomplished.”

Shields’ resolution was specific to sidewalks, directing the city manager to develop a repair plan that prioritizes the work to sidewalks that provide access to schools, public transportation and work areas, plus priorities to aid areas with higher concentrations of people with limited mobility, and to emphasize areas that are economically depressed.

Justus’ resolution includes sidewalk priorities within a proposal for a plan that addresses a broader scope of capital improvements.

Hers emphasizes attention to the health and livability of neighborhoods, with attention to bike lanes and a pedestrian-safety emphasis promoted by the national idea of “complete streets.”

“We’re going to try to roll the two resolutions into one,” Justus said.

The city needs a clear priority system, said Kansas City resident Robert Suhre, who has been studying the sidewalk effort and raising concerns.

The $150 million the city would raise for sidewalks from the bonds would address only a portion of the city’s sidewalk needs, he said.

“If this passes there’s going to be a train wreck,” Suhre said. “The city’s going to burn through the money and people are going to say, ‘But you promised you’d get our sidewalks fixed.’”

A city team led by council member Scott Wagner has anticipated the need for a priority system all along.

Wagner expects that the city would spend two years doing a system wide analysis of the condition of sidewalks, and that the findings would need to be plugged into a matrix that would determine where city crews would start.

What the city does not want to do is simply allot equal amounts either by district or ZIP code because some areas of the city will need more work than others.

The council members plan to provide a revised resolution to go before the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure meeting Thursday morning, with the hope it could be advanced to the full council Thursday afternoon.

The city would not be able to produce an ordinance on sidewalk priorities before the April 4 election, but voters could see the directions that the council has given the city, Justus said.

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