A broken sidewalk in Fairmount Park. Photo by Alexander Nguyen
A broken sidewalk in Fairmount Park. Photo by Alexander Nguyen

A report that says San Diego will need to spend $46.4 million to fix problems with the city’s nearly 4,600 miles of sidewalks was forwarded Thursday to the full City Council by the Infrastructure Committee.

Student engineers hired to conduct the $1 million assessment found 78,400 locations where sidewalk repairs or replacement are needed. They also discovered that 620 miles of roadway don’t have sidewalks on both sides; half the 42,000 corner curb ramps aren’t compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act; and 25,000 corners don’t have a ramp.

Around $6.7 million is being set aside to conduct about 7,000 repairs over the next year, with a priority being placed on high-traffic areas like bus stops, schools, parks, retail corridors and other public gathering areas, according to the office of Councilman Mark Kersey, the Infrastructure Committee chairman.

The money will also pay for the addition of 3.5 miles of sidewalks in spots where there are currently none.

“San Diegans deserve trip-free sidewalks — it’s both a public safety as well as a quality-of-life issue,” Kersey said. “We can’t have people walking down the street on the sidewalk not sure if they’re going to trip and fall, especially the elderly and young kids.”

He said the city pays out some settlements each year to people hurt tripping and hurting themselves on damaged sidewalks.

San Diego officials are also trying to make the city more pedestrian-friendly.

The city has commissioned several assessment studies in order to get a grip on the cost of clearing a backlog of major capital and maintenance projects with a collective price tag of nearly $3.9 billion. The city has also been assessing streets, parks, buildings and other facilities.

“We can’t address our infrastructure problems until we have an understanding the full scope of the problems,” Kersey said. City officials can then prioritize projects to address the highest-need areas first, he said.

For sidewalks, about half of the projects will involve complete replacement, including 7,585 spots that were uprooted by trees. The rest, in which elevation changes between concrete panels are less than 1.5 inches, can be repaired, according to the report.

Financial responsibility for maintaining sidewalks generally lies with the owner of the adjacent property, but only to some extent. Because of the high price of repair or replacement, the city will split the cost 50-50 with the property owner.

The city will also pay the full cost if damage was caused by trees in the public right-of-way, heat expansion or grade subsidence — in which poor soil compaction causes the sidewalk to settle.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald suggested that the city remind property owners of their responsibilities, and take a fresh look at the cost-sharing arrangement. She called it a subsidy that “government shouldn’t be forced to shoulder,” especially when broken sidewalks front commercial areas.

The committee also forwarded a report on how other cities dole out the financial responsibilities of sidewalk maintenance to the full council, and asked the City Attorney’s Office to chime in with a report on legal ramifications.

— City News Service