Plans to build a sidewalk along South Canyon Boulevard connecting Grant Union Junior-Senior High School to downtown John Day sidewalks may have run into an insurmountable financial hurdle.
When the John Day City Council initially considered the project, they were hoping to construct a sidewalk from Fourth Avenue to the high school for about $840,000, City Manager Nick Green told the Eagle.
“Where we stand now, we’re getting half of that area in sidewalk for more than double the cost,” he said.
The city was awarded a Multimodal Transportation Enhancement Program grant and a Special City Allotment grant that would partially fund the project, and the city council approved a design alternative on June 13, 2017 – a shorter project from Sixth Avenue to the high school.
The council chose a $1.34 million option that featured a 6-inch offset curb and a 13.5-inch swale between the curb and sidewalk for drainage. Bids were expected in 2018 with construction by 2019.
But the cost of the project increased significantly after the Oregon Department of Transportation settled a $23 million lawsuit related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement approved by a federal judge in March 2017 committed ODOT to creating an audit of all crossings on state highways, completing curb ramp upgrades at 30 percent of the locations by the end of 2022, completing upgrades at 75 percent by the end of 2027 and fixing all of the curb ramp locations by December 31, 2032.
The audit, completed about a month ago, rated only 3 percent of the curb ramps on state highways as “good.” Some were rated “fair,” but most of the rest were rated “poor.” In Grant County, every curb ramp was rated “poor,” and many had no ramp of any kind. ODOT Region 5 Public Information Officer Tom Strandberg said the agency has been fixing curb ramps as it completes other work.
ODOT Transportation Project Leader Sean Maloney presented updated costs to the city council over the phone at their Feb. 13 meeting. He had been able to locate $230,000 in additional funding from ODOT’s Sidewalk Improvement Program, which brought the total funding available to just over $1 million, he said.
But that was only enough for Phase 1 work — completing the preliminary engineering and design, acquiring all needed rights-of-way, relocating and replacing a shallow city water main and providing for contingency funding.
Funding for Phase 2 — the actual construction of the sidewalk and swales — would include leftover money from Phase 1 along with funding from the Safe Routes to School program that has not yet been awarded. Maloney said the city could apply for the Safe Routes to School funding this year, and if it was awarded early enough in 2019, construction could start that summer. Otherwise, construction would be delayed to summer 2020, he said.
Councilor Steve Schuette expressed concerns about tearing out old sidewalks to replace the water line and then leaving exposed construction work. Maloney said there wasn’t much sidewalk there to begin with, but he noted that provisions would need to be taken to comply with ADA requirements.
Costs had gotten out of hand, Councilor Dave Holland noted. Several councilors asked about what it would cost to back out of the project, and Mayor Ron Lundbom asked whether many schoolchildren walked along that section of the highway.
Former councilor Lisa Weigum spoke up, noting that schoolchildren went to get pizza for lunch and that the wrestling team ran along that section of the road.
The council reached consensus that the city should approach Grant County about helping fund the project. They also directed Maloney to continue planning for the project in the meantime.
Green told the Eagle the next day that several councilors had approached him after the meeting with their concerns about the project’s cost.
“They asked me to get back to ODOT to see what our buy-out provision is and what it would cost to cancel the project,” Green said.
The city may have to walk away from the project, he said.
“I’m going to work with the school district over the next couple weeks, and we will put this on the agenda for our Feb. 27 meeting to discuss again,” Green said.
But he was not optimistic.
“I think there’s a pretty good chance these sidewalks are not going to be built,” Green said.
EO Media Group reporter Jade McDowell contributed to this report.