Kansas City residents launch race to get their sidewalks repaired

The rush for sidewalk repairs

More than two dozen calls came to the city reporting broken sidewalks the day after voters passed GO bonds that put the cost of repairs on the city. Here are some neighbors who hope to take advantage of the change.
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More than two dozen calls came to the city reporting broken sidewalks the day after voters passed GO bonds that put the cost of repairs on the city. Here are some neighbors who hope to take advantage of the change.

Pat Hoff snatched up her phone the morning after Kansas City’s bond election April 4.

She and some two dozen other citizens rang the 311 service line at the dawning of a new age in which the city — and not the property owners — will bear the cost of sidewalk repairs.

To understand why she was so quick to “call right away” is to understand what she and neighbors on Brighton Avenue have endured while trying to preserve and revive their Northeast neighborhood.

Their plea for help also underscores the burden on the city to put an equitable plan into action for $800 million in buildings and infrastructure improvement.

“It’s time to get to work,” City Manager Troy Schulte told a City Council committee Thursday morning. The city wants people seeing projects underway as soon as possible, he said, “all over the city, in or close to every council district as much as possible.”

By May 1, the city will be identifying “shovel-ready” roads, bridges and building projects that will use the first $40 million in bond revenue, with construction underway by Nov. 1. Those first projects will likely include work on the Kansas City Museum, the new animal shelter and several road projects, Schulte said.

And crews will be plotting out by zones immediately to begin the heavy attack on the sidewalk repairs that city leaders heard throughout the campaign are so important to neighborhoods.

The two towering sycamore trees at the curb on Hoff’s block could hardly wreak more sidewalk havoc if they’d been bombs.

But she and neighbor Lynn Walker, and others on slim financial margins, have been trying to rehab houses and reclaim yards.

Like many of the people who made those first postelection calls for city-funded repairs, they’d been fretting for years over how they would pay thousands of dollars to fix sidewalk eyesores on their own.

And it’s not just a cosmetic concern, either.

“We’ve had people in wheelchairs that have to go on the street to get around them,” Hoff said, “and cars don’t slow down.”

She, Walker and neighbor Barbara Woska recounted the work that’s been done — pointing out former vacant, vagrant-occupied houses now in fresh paint with new owners or dependable renters.

“We’re trying to keep the neighborhood going,” Woska said. But impassible sidewalks drag on their efforts like a sunken anchor.

The city wants to get moving. The fresh service calls — which the city anticipated — add to a backlog of some $6 million worth of spot fixes.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner believes at around $7.5 million a year the city can replace or construct between 18 and 28 miles of sidewalks annually throughout the city’s more than 4,000 miles of sidewalks.

Goodwill is at stake.

“We’ve got to get this right the first time,” said City Councilman Jermaine Reed, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “People want to see major wins” in their communities.

Across many neighborhoods, people at the scene of some of the new 311 sidewalk calls see a chance now for the city to redress a lot of perceived service wounds.

On one hand, neighbors Nick Woods and Mary Thompson on Wabash Avenue in Kansas City’s East Side carry a load of grievances.

The street never seems to be cleared soon enough, if at all, of snow and ice in winter, they said. Or they’re getting “the runaround from pest control.”

“We do all this work, and the city doesn’t do anything for us,” Woods said. “It’s discouraging.”

But on the other hand, the prospect of sidewalks and road repair “is really fantastic,” he said. “Not only for homeowners and property values, but for the safety of the pedestrians.”

Other sites of sidewalk repair calls brought similar new-found optimism.

Justin Hardy said he was voting for the bond issues anyway. But he has this sidewalk in front of his house in the Valentine Neighborhood that has had a whole panel missing, probably because of water line repairs, since before he moved in.

He called the morning after the election, hoping he will reap “a fringe benefit.”

Same goes for Josh Peterson just east of the Country Club Plaza. Almost right away after moving into the house some 18 months ago, he inquired about fixing its tree-wrecked sidewalk.

The jolting information under the old policy left him hanging. It wasn’t just bearing the cost that was a problem, but the need for a permit, held to the city’s standards, with an inspection.

The bond issues got his vote.

Not everyone who called 311 April 5 heard what they hoped to hear.

Mike Malaker already has a contractor coming this month to redo his midtown sidewalks along with his steps and driveway.

He can’t wait for the unknown day when the city might get to his sidewalk.

And, no, he was told, the city would not reimburse work he gets done on his own, just as it won’t retroactively cover the costs of sidewalks already fixed and paid for.

“I thought it was worth a try,” he said.

Schulte said the city will cluster sidewalk repair requests and do scattered work in zones across the city. This will take up most of the first couple years of sidewalk projects while the city prepares a comprehensive sidewalk survey for improvements citywide.

As far as other construction projects, in addition to the Kansas City Museum and animal shelter, Schulte expects the first group of road projects will likely include Maplewoods Parkway, North Brighton Avenue, North Oak Trafficway, 27th Street, 22nd and 23rd streets, Wornall Road and 135th Street.

There will be more, he said. He wants people to see what the city can do now that voters gave it their confidence.

“We’ve been struggling (chasing infrastructure improvements) incrementally,” Schulte said. “Now we have a chance for an infusion — a chance for immediate impact.”

The city also will have an information site online by May, with a full report on projects every six months beginning in November.