(Host) How well kept are the sidewalks in Vermont?
Neighbors of a woman killed in a hit and run accident last month in Rutland allege the woman and her wheel-chair bound husband were in the street because nearby sidewalks were impassable. Local officials dispute that.
But repairing and replacing crumbling walkways is costly. And, as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, officials in many cities say they just don’t have the money to keep up.
(Keck) Rutland resident Elle Austin stands on her front porch, a stone’s throw from where Deborah Campbell was killed by a hit and run driver as she pushed her husband’s wheelchair. The nearby sidewalk is in fairly decent shape. But Austin says in the winter, the walkways are often not salted and sanded.
(Austin) "That’s why the guy was riding in the street. And we warned him about riding in the street in his wheelchair. But when the sidewalks are bad and they don’t have a car and that’s their only mode of transportation. And, yeah, I feel really bad about that lady."
(Keck) Rutland Mayor Chris Louras feels bad too. But he blames the hit-and-run driver, who’s never been identified. Walking that same block, he says the sidewalks here are in good shape. But he admits elsewhere in the city, many may need attention.
(Louras) "When I was elected, the sidewalk budget was $25,000 a year. I increased that the first year to $50,000. They’ve increased it now to $70,000."
(Keck) But with over 100 miles of sidewalks, even tripling the budget is still just a drop in the bucket.
Gary Freeguard is a concrete contractor based in Whiting. He says replacing a single sidewalk along one city block costs about $20,000. And because towns use more salt today, Freeguard says the concrete doesn’t last as long as it used to.
(Freeguard) "Every town in the state of Vermont that has concrete sidewalks or any sidewalk is struggling with it. We usually go to each town and they’ll have us do 300 or 400 feet in a year. And that’s all they can afford to do."
(Keck) In Brattleboro, Town Manager Barbara Sondag says they won a $300,000 transportation enhancement grant specifically to improve downtown sidewalks.
While she says it’s a good start, she admits the funds will cover less than a third of all the work that’s needed. It’s frustrating, she says, because it’s hard for local officials to approve any new sidewalks.
(Sondag) "The more new sidewalks you put in, the more you need to put into upkeep and repair or you’ll continue on this vicious cycle of having this infrastructure that’s not being maintained."
(Keck) According to Vermont’s League of Cities and Towns, lawsuits filed because of sidewalk related incidents are few and far between in Vermont.
But in a recent nationwide poll of adults 50 and older, two in five said their neighborhood sidewalks were inadequate and nearly half said they could not cross main roads close to their home safely, preventing many from walking.
Vermont AARP officials say, considering the state’s aging population, local sidewalks deserve more attention.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.