James R. Capaldi, P.E.
|October 25, 2002|
Draft ADA Regulations
Comments from the R.I. Department of Transportation
The RIDOT supports the design and construction of sidewalks that are accessible to all individuals. We concur with the need for coherent regulations to provide common sense guidance that will assure accessible routes to the maximum extent possible in all public rights of way.
Where new facilities are being constructed, compliance with the proposed minimum clear width requirement of 48” appears reasonable and practical. However, our main concern with this draft regulation is that there does not appear to be an allowance to exercise good engineering judgment when attempting to achieve this revised clear width on projects involving improvement to existing facilities. A public right of way equivalent to “technically infeasible” that can be equated to cost (money or time) should be expressly defined.
A typical urban roadway with sidewalk in Rhode Island is narrow, bounded by historically significant structures, and full of underground and overhead utilities. Our rolling terrain results in grade changes that many times require retaining walls at the back of sidewalk. Sidewalks of only 5 feet or less in width, including the curbstone, are common. In many situations the utility poles are set close to the back of curb and the Right-of-Way line is coincidental with the back of sidewalk. With these constraints, at the present time we are struggling just to achieve the existing 36” clear requirement for reconstruction and maintenance level projects. An increase to 48” will be an economic impossibility for the majority of these types of projects.
For virtually every roadway where existing sidewalks are less than 6 feet wide, utility poles would likely have to be relocated to provide the proposed clearance. Rhode Island State law requires that if Federal funds are utilized for the project, and utility relocation is necessary due to the project, the cost of the relocations must be borne by the State. These expensive utility relocations would reduce the available funds that could be used for additional ADA improvements.
Although the draft regulations address the application of the technical requirements relative to the project Scope of Work, and that compliance will be “prorated” based on the extent of work planned, we remain concerned as to the expectations that will be raised by the new 48” standard, and how (and by whom) this will be interpreted particularly for lower-level projects such as roadway resurfacings. Currently, for most maintenance-level projects where there are conflicts with utility poles, we are able to bump out the curb a few inches (without compromising the integrity of the roadway), or slightly widen to the back of sidewalk to achieve the 36” clear distance. Should the standard be increased to 48”, the extra foot will frequently require that either utility poles will need to be moved, additional right-of-way acquired, walls rebuilt, or all of the above. This in turn will heighten the potential for adverse environmental impacts to result from the expanded construction area. We anticipate that the costs of attempting to comply would now far exceed the cost of the initial project. Without a “technically infeasible” out, we may be deprived of the application of good engineering (economic) judgment, resulting in not only these additional costs, but also significant increases in time to perform the engineering required to address these issues.
Equally of concern would be the proposed requirement for “tabled areas” at intersections with crosswalks. Basically, this would require complete reconstruction at virtually all intersections, including property acquisition and the likelihood of more complex environmental permitting. This would be well beyond the scope of any maintenance project, and add significant complexity to even large reconstruction projects.
Rhode Island has been able to bring into compliance an average of 25-30 miles of sidewalk per year over the past 4 years, utilizing primarily these maintenance-level projects. Should the new 48” clear width be required for all projects, the increase in project complexity and cost will result in a drastic reduction in the amount of miles improved. Due to increased cost and environmental impacts, in general, our projects have been trending away from major reconstruction, and more toward maintenance-level work. These proposed changes buck that trend, and are heading us back in the direction of major reconstruction. Again, while we are encouraged by the language relative to “prorating” level of compliance relative to project scope of work, this would still be subject to interpretation. We remain concerned that the expectation will be that 48” is the new standard for all improvement projects. The general public will not understand why we were able to provide 48” clear in some areas, but it was determined to be “technically infeasible” in others.
Roughly 50% of sidewalks on State roadways still do not even have curb ramps, and are of such condition that they are difficult to traverse. Maintenance-level projects, which can efficiently address these issues, as well as provide a reasonably clear corridor, have been effective in making progress toward vastly improving the accessibility of our sidewalks at an affordable cost. We would view these issues as the most critical elements of providing an accessible corridor. Unfortunately, the costs associated with improving the corridor to the level of service required in the draft regulations, increase exponentially over what we are currently experiencing. In short, we will end up with a very small number of “perfect” sidewalks, and retain a large number that remain totally inaccessible. We would see this as a step backward rather than continued progress in our efforts to improve public rights-of-way to be accessible to all.
index previous comment next comment