The condition of sidewalks on Massachusetts Avenue, left, and Craigie Street are among the worst in Portland, city officials say. Close to 90% of city sidewalks do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Courtesy / City of Portland

PORTLAND — Nearly 90% of the 195 miles of city sidewalks do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act because they are obstructed, uneven and lack proper wheelchair access, and more than two-thirds of the city’s 212 miles of roadways are in poor or fair condition.

The Department of Public Works will request more than $3.7 million to fix the streets and $1.8 million to patch sidewalks in the fiscal year 2021 budget, but neither allotment comes close to funding the work that needs to be done.

City sidewalks are laden with more than 16,500 obstructions, such as tree roots, uneven surfaces and other tripping hazards that need to be corrected, Department of Public Works Senior Engineer Jennifer Ladd told the City Council’s sustainability and transportation committee last week.

To rebuild the sidewalks to meet ADA standards would cost between $74 million and $90 million, plus upwards of another $16 million to $33 million to fix handicapped-accessible ramps on the sidewalks, Ladd said. Over the last three years, 3% of that backlog has been addressed. Funding requested in the fiscal year 2021 capital improvement budget would cover another 1.2% of the backlog, she said.

Public Works Director Chris Branch said the sidewalk improvement priority depends on the condition, how much the sidewalk is used by pedestrians and if it is along a route to a school.

Committee member Belinda Ray said she’d like to see the city do away with brick sidewalks all together and replace them with either asphalt or concrete.

“I think it is important we mandate we move away from requiring brick sidewalks (in places),” she said. “I know people think they are pretty, but they are slippery, they are a tripping hazard and are more costly and need little repairs more often.”

The condition of Portland’s roadways range from excellent on the Eastern Promenade, top left, fair on Walton Street, top right, poor on Longwood Drive, bottom left, and very poor on Munjoy Street, bottom right. Courtesy / City of Portland

Road repair is another prevalent, and costly, problem the city is facing.

Bringing streets up to “good condition,” which would entail a combination of sealing cracks, repaving all or parts of roads and, in some cases, total road rehabilitation, would cost between $72 million to $80 million, Laura Anderson, a senior engineer in the public works department, told the committee.

Over the last three years, the city has been able to cover 14% of the backlog of needed repairs, Anderson said, and in fiscal year 2021, which begins in July, is requesting funding to cover another 4% of the work that needs to get done.

Branch said it takes close to 50 years for all the roads in the city to be repaved. Which roads get attention, he said, is based on their condition, the money available and requests from residents, city officials and elected leaders.

Branch said the conditions of Portland’s roads are not substantially different than those in other communities.

“It is a statewide problem. Some of the winters we’ve been having are not helping. Last winter was about the worst you can get for damage to roads,” Branch said.

Branch said this week the roads may need work, but they are still safe to use.

“I don’t think there is any safety concerns with the streets and roads. We may have some potholes here and there, but we can go out and address those as needed,” Branch said.

While roads and sidewalks need attention, Branch said he knows infrastructure improvements are also needed for the city’s parks, public buildings and schools.

“It’s a very difficult decision where we put money. Everything is important. I can’t stand here and tell you streets are more important than parks,” Branch said.

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