Building connections: Pedestrian plan lays groundwork for Sanford sidewalk referendum

Jul. 31, 2013 @ 07:09 PM

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a five-part series, which is focused on the four city of Sanford bond referendums that will appear on the Sept. 10 ballot. The series will continue throughout the week, providing detailed information about each of the four bond referendum items. Read part one here.

On any given afternoon, children and teenagers alike can be seen cutting across Billy Cox's yard, traveling away from O.T. Sloan Park.

Cox, who lives in the 1400 block of Bragg Street next to the park, said he's not sure if a $2 million city bond referendum, which would build more sidewalks within city limits, would prevent students from using his lawn as a shortcut.

But he's hopeful.

"I've seen as many as 60 or 50 kids in the grass and street in the pouring-down rain [on Bragg Street]," Cox said. "They need to be on a sidewalk."

Sections of Bragg Street — with its close proximity to Lee County High School, Bragg Street Academy, Central Carolina Community College, O.T. Sloan Park and the Boys and Girls Club of Sanford/Lee County — have been widely discussed by Sanford City Council and city staff as possible locations to install sidewalks if the city's referendum passes after the Sept. 10 municipal primary election.

The $2 million sidewalk improvement referendum is one of four city referendums, totaling $14.5 million, that city residents will vote on in a few weeks.

Pedestrian Plan

The city completed a comprehensive pedestrian plan in 2010 that outlined the sidewalk needs, ranked by priority, within the city. This plan, according to Sanford-Lee County Planning Department Director Bob Bridwell, has laid the groundwork and would enable the city to move quickly if the referendum was passed.

"The sidewalks are fairly easy, too," Bridwell said. "They are not really difficult engineering projects. You finalize the priorities and where you are going to put them."

Council will determine the order of project completion, depending on which or if any of the bond referendums pass, after the election, he said, and the timeline for the sidewalk construction has not been determined. 

Sanford's existing sidewalks are listed in good condition, according to the plan, and the major concerns with the overall sidewalk system are the age of the paths, the gaps in paving, general lack of sidewalks, lack of connectors, intrusive vegetation, debris, discoloration and narrow paths.

The areas that received a high-priority ranking were ones which lacked sidewalks and forced pedestrians out into roads with a high volume of traffic, had a lack of crosswalks or pedestrian signals at busy intersections, had a history of high pedestrian accidents, had sidewalks in such poor condition that they create hazards for pedestrians, and had a lack of connectivity to high-priority destinations such as schools and medical facilities.

The estimated cost for all high priority sidewalks and intersections is $974,800, and the estimated cost to fund all high- and medium-priority sidewalks and intersections is $4.65 million, according to the plan. 

Thirteen locations were considered to have heavy pedestrian traffic in the plan:

* Vance Street from Wicker Street to Carthage Street

* Carthage Street From Carbonton Road to Fields Drive

* Fields Drive along the hospital grounds

* Charlotte Avenue from Depot Park to Third Street

* Horner Boulevard between Wicker Street and Wall Street

* Horner Boulevard south of Washington Avenue

* Tramway Road from U.S. 1 to SanLee Middle School and Southern Lee High School

* Harkey Street

* Bragg Street near Lee County High School and O.T. Sloan Park

* Main Street in Jonesboro

* Park Avenue to Kiwanis Children's Park

Several "dangerous intersections" were also identified including where Carthage Street, Wicker Street, Pearl Street, Washington Avenue, Rose Street, Lee Avenue and Fields Drive cross Horner Boulevard.

Questions remain

According to a document listing tentatively proposed locations that the $2 million bond could be used, the high-priority, and some medium-priority locations, could be funded.

The pedestrian plan is only a preliminary guideline, stressed City Manger Hal Hegwer, and it ultimately will be up to council to determine which sidewalks will be included.

High-priority areas — near schools, medical facilities and retail centers — will be considered, but there is not a definite list of streets, he said. The costs listed in the plan do not include unexpected expenses — like finding a utility line — that might occur, Hegwer said.

Sandy High, who lives in the 2200 block of Hampton Place, wasn't fully sold on the four referendums, but eventually found himself supporting three after reviewing information on the city of Sanford's website. However, the lack of information on the sidewalks has left some doubt in his mind, he said.

"I've come to find myself in support of three of them, but for the sidewalk one, if they could just be a little bit more specific and say that this is where they'd like for them to go," High said. "All they say is that they will target areas that need improving. If I had that, I might support that as well. But right now, I just have a question mark about it."

Adding dimension 

The city allocates funds toward repairing the current sidewalk network each year, but an estimated $100,000 budgeted for the 2013-2014 budget was slashed, Hegwer said.

"It did get cut this year," Hegwer said. "It's typically budgeted in the range of sidewalk, curb and gutter rehabilitation."

New sidewalks are installed through grants such as the community development block grant, he said, and the city has not typically funded the installation of new sidewalks.

During the 1950s and 1960s, people stopped building sidewalks as society moved toward a greater reliance on vehicles, Bridwell said. It wasn't until 2003 that the city began requiring subdivisions to include pedestrian walkways.

"Sidewalks are more than just a physical improvement," he said. "They add a dimension to the city that I think it is hard to put a value on. It involves people interacting with people. ... A lot of places lost that connection with the neighborhoods in the community. The value of sidewalks is people being able to see one another, look people in the eye and say, 'good morning,' and that's an important element you can't put a dollar amount on."