Tacoma’s streets are in bad shape. Its sidewalks might be worse.
And that’s troubling for local disability activists.
The city identified 17,754 locations where ramps need to be installed during a December 2006 study, said public works’ Jim Parvey. Since then, they’ve installed 324.
And it will cost the city $97 million to get every sidewalk in full compliance with the federal American Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1992.
Washington law requires three curb ramps at intersections in private developments. City-funded projects must provide ramps to all four intersections.
John Briehl, Tacoma’s director of human rights and human services director, calls it an "enormous undertaking."
Michael Corsini, the director of advocacy group Access-ADA, has harsher words.
"It’s pandemic," he said, adding the lack of a curb ramping isn’t just an inconvenience for some; it can be dangerous when it forces someone in a wheelchair to ride in the traffic lane because the curb is too high.
Public works will spend $633,000 on ramping this year. The city has pledged about $250,000 from the state gas tax for future curb ramp construction, but the city will require at least $500,000 per year to make "meaningful progress on the backlog of curb ramps," according to its newly released ADA Transition Plan.
Installation of a curb ramp costs about $5,500, Parvey said.
"The volume of work to be done, however, is considerable and the top two or three strategic priorities will easily consume all the funds currently committed," the plan reads.
That’s on top of the $1 million per year that the city has set aside for renovations on public facilities over the next five years. That should put all buildings in compliance with the law.
"With our facilities, we’ve given ourselves a self-imposed deadline of five years to get everything in compliance," Briehl said.
The ADA doesn’t require a concrete deadline for all sidewalks to be brought up to code. Instead, a city must show a commitment and make progress on that.
Corsini, though, feels like installing curbcuts just isn’t a priority in Tacoma.
"They undergo a $108 million refurbishment, and some of the sidewalks are still so non-compliant that they’re life-threatening," he said. "They are so dangerous that we recommended to the city that they just close the sidewalk. It’s that bad. And they had already spent that much."
The city has prioritized which intersections receive new curb ramps. Intersections near state and local government facilities are at the top of the list, followed by facilities near heavily used transportation stops, places of public accommodation like major commercial centers and major arterials, walkways serving other areas and reconstruction of existing but noncompliant curb ramps.
"Obviously, there are more critical parts of town than others for ramping that we haven’t done yet," Briehl said. "It’s a big job."
When the city does more than routine maintenance – like chipsealing – on a street, it’s required to bring all the sidewalks up to ADA standard.
That hasn’t affected the pace of street paving, Briehl said.
"It hasn’t gone in slower than it should have to date," he said. "You shouldn’t blame the rate of street improvements because of following the ADA."