Janesville64.2°

Council to consider 62 miles of sidewalk

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
January 9, 2008
— Better check Janesville’s proposed sidewalk map.

If your property is marked with yellow, city staff is recommending that you be assessed for a sidewalk within seven years.


A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Monday on a recommendation to build 62 miles of sidewalk.


Staff asks that the council adopt its 30-year-old sidewalk plan, creating what Public Works Director Jack Messer calls a “minimum connective sidewalk network.”


Roughly, that means about 400 properties a year would get sidewalk—or 2,800 properties over seven years. That’s about 12 percent of the properties in the city.


The city would be divided into nine zones, and one mile in each zone would be built each year.


The cost in 2007 to put sidewalk on an average-sized, 85-foot lot was $2,000.


Why is this happening now?


Until about 50 years ago, Janesville built sidewalks on both sides of streets. But exceptions increasingly were made, resulting in a patchy sidewalk network.


Staff, though, continued planning sidewalks on a map for continuity and to create safe routes for pedestrians. The map never was adopted and was haphazardly implemented.


Those who advocate sidewalks say they are needed for safety. The lack of a consistent policy also has created hard feelings among residents, with some saying it is unfair they must pay for and maintain sidewalks while others don’t.


Sentiment to build sidewalks has increased with recent councils. In 2006, the council required all new streets to have sidewalks on both sides.


Last year, the city built 6.3 miles of sidewalk across 277 properties to close what staff considered significant gaps. The cost was $124,000 per mile.


Council members met in a study session last year, and the majority appeared to endorse adopting the sidewalk plan. They asked staff to come back with recommendations on how to do it.


The plan generally puts at least one sidewalk on all streets, although some streets still will have none. According to a memo, the administration believes the “construction of sidewalks on both sides of every street is an ideal standard but has not been the historical policy.”


The city has about 311 miles of sidewalk already built, and the proposed yellow represents another 62. Another 26 miles is paid for by developers but remains to be built.


That totals 399 miles of sidewalk. The orange on the map—areas that are not planned for sidewalk at this point—represent 196 miles.


Messer suggests that areas around highways wait for sidewalk until development patterns become clear. Industrial parks would not get sidewalks.


“I think if we were starting from scratch, every street should have sidewalks on both sides,” Messer said. “You never know where a pedestrian might need one,” especially residents with sight problems, in wheelchairs or the young, he said.


“For whatever reasons, those decisions were made in the past. We can’t go back and relive them.”


Messer said the recommendation is a reasonable approach to address what might seem to be an insurmountable problem.


“We understand not everybody will be happy,” Messer said.


“In Janesville’s history, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about sidewalks. Hopefully, what is presented here is a logical implementation to get this done.”


Can residents expect a long meeting on Monday?


Sidewalk meetings often are contentious, drawn-out affairs with residents pleading and cajoling council members to except them from sidewalks.


“I don’t know what to expect,” Messer said. “I think we’ll have a lively discussion.”


Will more sidewalks around the city bring pressure to fill in the orange?


Messer said that might happen if some gaps are found or some areas develop.


Also, residents, especially those with disabilities, can bring safety concerns.


“I just don’t think you can deal with those kinds of specifics in a general plan,” Messer said.


Can there ever be peace and harmony surrounding Janesville’s sidewalks?


“We hope so,” Messer said.


“That’s our goal.”


The color orange

Under the proposal, orange would become the new white on the sidewalk map.


Council members requested the change because they fear residents looking at the white assume they will never have sidewalks.


The orange signifies future unfunded sidewalks, although no plans to build those sidewalks exist at this time.


Residents can ask staff for sidewalk for safety reasons or through a petition process involving their neighbors.


Do-it–yourselfers fee

Staff recommends that homeowners who build their sidewalks privately be required to pay for a $185-permit.


In 2007, 62 percent of residents on the sidewalk program chose to build sidewalks themselves or hired them built privately. State statutes require this option.


But residents who opt out of the program raise the overall costs for everyone, said Jack Messer, public works director.


Messer says the large number of people who opted to do the work themselves shows him that Janesville residents are hardworking, do-it-themselvers.


But he also acknowledged residents could have been scared away by the city’s initial estimate of $30 a foot.


The city picked $30 when it legally set of the assessment rate to make sure the figure would cover all costs, telling residents the eventual rate would likely be lower.


The city’s actual construction cost in 2007 was $17.63 a foot, and the assessment was $23.50.


The additional $5.87 covered administrative and inspection costs. It also paid for retaining walls, tree cutting and other work needed on individual properties over the entire project.


Messer hopes the $185 permit will help convince homeowners to let the city do the work.


The average-sized lot is 85 feet, so the $5.87 added about $500 to the average lot.


“It’s a little more expensive than some folks building their own, but there are some things that we do to make sure we get a good project,” Messer said.


The $185 amount was picked as the average staff time—3.5 hours—spent on each property on a sidewalk program.


Messer doesn’t guess the permit will be too popular, but he says it is fairer than having other residents pay the staff time for those who choose private contractors.


The $185 would go toward lowering that total cost.


Paying for sidewalk

Residents who can’t afford sidewalks can apply for financial hardship exemptions. Those are applied to the property as liens.


Residents on corner lots also get exemptions. Residents pay the longer side of their frontage but are exempted the first 70 feet of the second frontage. The general fund picks up that cost.


Those who believe their sidewalks present special cases can call city staff, Messer said.


TO LEARN MORE

The Janesville City Council is being asked to adopt a sidewalk plan to build 62 miles of sidewalk over seven years. Staff also is asking that residents who privately build those sidewalks get a $185 permit.


A public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St.


Click here to see a map of the sidewalk plan (large file, may be long download time)
Or go to the city Web site at www.ci.janesville.wi.us.

Copies also are available at the Hedberg Public Library or at City Hall on the third floor.


To request a mailed copy, call the city engineering department at (608) 755-3160.



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