A new report says $1.984 billion is the cost to maintain aging Dallas sidewalks and install missing segments over the next 40 years.
Crumbling pathways and streets with no pedestrian space are the result of decades of underfunding maintenance and construction.
“If we want to be a truly walkable city, we must make major strides to improving our pedestrian accommodations,” Councilman Paul Ridley said.
To address the problem, the new Sidewalk Master Plan was prepared after nine months of community input and study by a consultant.
Maps were prepared for the entire city and individual City Council districts with red lines depicting the most urgently needed segments based on the lack of sidewalks, the condition of existing sidewalks, and expectations for new development in those areas. All of it will eventually be posted online for neighbors to see.
One target area for attention in the briefing shown to council members this week is South Dallas near Martin Luther King Boulevard. New homes are being constructed in the area, but many sidewalks are missing or damaged.
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Sheila Blackwell is the owner of an older home there. She’s wheelchair-bound and her son Lindsey said the sidewalks beside her home are treacherous when he takes her out.
“It's uneven for people who have wheelchairs. To even walk on the sidewalk they have to walk in the street which makes it dangerous,” he said.
In another focus area of Oak Cliff, Gary Ross Thursday visited the spot where he once played as a child at his grandmother’s home, which has been demolished.
He said the crumbling condition of the sidewalks is nothing like he remembered 60 years ago.
“I was a young kid, but I don’t remember nothing wrong. I never did get hurt on anything,” he said.
That location is down a side street from reconstruction of the R.L. Thornton I-35E freeway where a deck park is planned adjacent to the Dallas Zoo.
“That would be pretty neat. There’d be, I expect, a lot of people walking on it, going to the park here,” Ross said.
But portions of that side street now have no sidewalks at all.
Those are two of many locations highlighted for attention in the Sidewalk Master Plan.
“This is exactly what our residents expect of us. This is an essential city service,” Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn said. “I’m not interested in a budget that doesn’t fully fund the maintenance of our sidewalks.”
City officials said they had made efforts to get input for the plan from Spanish-speaking residents, but Councilman Omar Narvaez said it was weak.
“If we’re talking about equity, we have to make sure that we get out there into the Spanish monolingual communities,” Narvaez said.
But city leaders said the $1.98 billion price tag for a complete solution is staggering.
Public Works Director Robert Perez told council members that the city has only been spending about half the $20 million a year that is proposed in the next city budget.
And that larger amount will not solve the problem.
“At $20 million a year, we're looking at about 100 years to address this,” Perez said.
City rules say property owners are supposed to split the cost of sidewalk replacement, but Lindsey Blackwell said his mom can’t afford it.
“It's hard for her to pay for improving her own home at this time, so to do that, it's double hard,” he said.
Councilman Adam Bazaldua who represents South Dallas said 80% of the residents in his district are tenants who rent from absentee landlords that may be able to pay.
“That’s who we need to be focusing on to help the cost here in the city,” Bazaldua said.
Perez said the city plan is to pay the full cost and seek the half reimbursement from those who can pay.
Dallas officials have high hopes that the federal infrastructure program being debated in Washington could make a much larger step toward sidewalk improvements.
“We have a great opportunity with this infrastructure bill that President Biden is looking to roll out,” Councilman Casey Thomas said.
Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry said Dallas City Hall is closely monitoring the federal debate and lining up projects like the Sidewalk Master Plan that could swiftly qualify as ‘shovel ready’ for funding.
He said the North Central Texas Council of Governments Regional Planning Council is doing the same with big projects all around the region.
In a separate briefing this week, Dallas councilmembers were told the overall city budget picture is much better than it was a year ago when drastic cuts in sales taxes from the COVID-19 pandemic were threatening all city programs.
COVID-19 relief money already received has filled some Dallas budget gaps but many big challenges remain like the need for more police officers.