Calls for sidewalk funding received favorably at DC Council hearing

Neglected and broken sidewalks in the District will get the fixes they need if the DC Council approves about $33 million set aside in Mayor Vince Gray’s budget, and prospects for approval are looking good following a budget hearing Tuesday.

At the DC Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment hearing for the District Department of Transportation’s 2015 budget, Council Member and Committee Chair Mary Cheh signaled that a pattern of annually underfunding sidewalk repairs may be reversed soon. “I fully expect the Council to support the budget increase,” Cheh said following testimony by a handful of District residents about the dangers to people of all ages created by cracked sidewalks. “Like you, we believe sidewalks are a form of transit and deserve to be a priority.”

The Mayor’s proposed budget calls for spending $33.5 million on sidewalk repairs in fiscal years 2015 through 2017. This would be an increase from the $7.9 million that had been budgeted previously. The District receives about 3,000 requests for sidewalk work each year and would need about $13 million annually to meet the demand, a DDOT official told the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) last year.

The PAC has been pushing for several months for speeding up the pace of sidewalk repairs. In January, the PAC passed a resolution requesting the city address the long list of broken sidewalks.

“The backlog in sidewalk maintenance puts pedestrians across the District in danger as they try to navigate around real sidewalk defects that go unaddressed for too long,” testified Robin Murphy, the Ward 7 PAC representative. Others who testified described incidents in which older residents tripped and fell because of damaged sidewalks and sustained injuries that limited their daily activities.

Council Member David Grosso pressed DDOT for quality control. After he expressed concern during the hearing that newer sidewalks appear to be low quality and quick to deteriorate, a DDOT official described discussions among engineers in the region about the possibility that snow removal chemicals are having a degrading effect. Grosso is requesting that DDOT fully investigate the cause. “It’s imperative we have quality. Otherwise it’s a waste,” Grosso said of the expense and effort.

PAC member Marlene Berlin urged DDOT to make sure it has good systems in place before ramping up its work on sidewalks. “Doing the work of building and maintaining the sidewalk network, the roadway for pedestrians, needs coordination between planning and engineering, the capacity at DDOT to execute the work, and adequate capital funding,” said Berlin, testifying in her role as pedestrian advocate for Iona Senior Services.

The Committee for Transportation and the Environment holds its budget mark-up meeting for DDOT on May 15. The DC Council votes on the budget on May 28.