Sidewalk ADA compliance could cost Bradley County $7.2 million

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 9/12/19

Work is underway countywide to make sure Bradley County meets requirements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and accessibility.

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Sidewalk ADA compliance could cost Bradley County $7.2 million

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Work is underway countywide to make sure Bradley County meets requirements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and accessibility.

The Bradley County Commission heard an update on the ongoing Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan, which must be filed with the state in December; the plan must be filed before communities can re-sign for Transportation Improvement Program certification.

Commissioner Kevin Raper, chairman of the County Commission’s Road Committee, introduced the ADA transition plan presentation.

"It impacts not only the Road Department, but every department," Raper said.

Tina Bishop, special projects coordinator with the Road Department, made the presentation and noted the department’s information is only a portion of this countywide project. She said Bradley County’s responsibility related to the ADA and accessibility is most concerned with Title II of the ADA, which addresses the requirements of public agencies.

“Title II provides that public entities must identify and evaluate all programs, activities, and services (including website accessibility), and review all policies, practices and procedures that govern the administration of the entity’s programs, activities and services,” Bishop said. “The law requires that a public agency complete an ADA Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan to communicate its review of compliance with the regulations and standards of the ADA, and its intended action steps to improving accessibility.”

The self-evaluation is a comprehensive list of all physical barriers in a public entity’s facilities that limit accessibility to any programs, activities, or service to individuals with disabilities.

“The county must identify and remove barriers to its programs, services, activities, communications, transportation services and pedestrian facilities or structures in the right of way,” Bishop said.

The self-evaluation pertains to schools, government offices, courts, parks and recreation facilities, websites and any building that houses any county services or programs. For the Road Department, any pedestrian facilities in, or planned to be in, the right of way, (sidewalks, curb ramps, traffic signals, etc.) along with accessibility of the buildings that house the department, are included.

Bishop said Lindsay Hathcock is ADA coordinator for Bradley County. Hathcock is executive assistant to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.

She added “this is not something new,” and self-evaluation and transition plans were required to have been completed by Dec. 29, 1979.

“Under the ADA, signed into law July 26, 1990, transition plans should have been completed by July 26, 1992, and be updated periodically to ensure the ongoing needs of the community continue to be met,” Bishop said. “The ADA deadline for completing the corrective improvements listed in the required transition plan was Jan. 26, 1995. 

“Cities and counties that do not respond to developing the required transition plan by December 2019, will be placed on hold and will not be able to apply for grants through TDOT,” Bishop said. “State-aid funding is also at jeopardy until the transition plan is in place. This affects anything operated or governed by Bradley County.”

Bishop said if a grievance is filed and a transition plan is not in place “to acknowledge the public entity is aware of deficiencies and has a workable timeline for achieving complains, the public entity is given a very short, specific amount of time to bring all deficiencies determined by the U.S. Department of Justice into compliance, regardless of cost.”

As coordinator for all of Bradley County, Hathcock said the county owns and maintains 123 buildings, and has 70 departments. He has been working to gather information, but it has been challenging; he has twice sent out self-assessment to departments for the county’s facilities.

"I've gotten about five responses from everybody … and we have to be compliant," Hathcock said.

He added the city of Cleveland has been very helpful with information, especially around the downtown area.

Speaking from the Road Department’s perspective, Bishop said Bradley County has about 30 subdivisions with 36.8 miles of sidewalks ranging from three to four feet wide. TDOT requirements to meet ADA requirements specify a five-foot-wide sidewalk. Bishop said the Road Department is also responsible for 12 traffic signals in the county.

Giving an example of addressing non-compliance, Bishop said in one subdivision there are 3.6 miles of sidewalks, .6 miles of driveway crossing, and .1 miles of missing segments, totaling 4.2 miles. Bishop said the cost estimate is $812,681.50 "to demo, replace (sidewalks that don’t meet ADA requirements) and add the required crosswalks."

"Sidewalks are not a requirement, but an amenity," Bishop said.

However, when sidewalks are installed in the county's right-of-way, "it becomes the Road Department's," she said.

Bishop said in some instances, sidewalks can be three feet wide, but must have 5x5-foot turnarounds every 200 feet to meet ADA requirements.

As of May, costs for concrete work regarding sidewalks were quoted at $2.50 per square foot for demo and disposal; $5 per square foot to construct; and $650 for each curb ramp. Bishop said $7,235,980 is the "very worst case" if all the sidewalks in Bradley County have to be replaced.

"I'm only talking about it from the Road Department (standpoint)," Bishop said, adding in government you often hear "we don't have the money to do this. Well, with this you don't have a choice."

Bishop said she has proposed to TDOT a 30-year timeline to bring the sidewalks throughout the county into compliance. She added sidewalks have to be ADA-compliant whether they are in the right of way or not.

Bishop reiterated she did a transition plan specific to the Road Department, but it is part of Bradley County's overall transition plan.

Both Hathcock and Bishop agree some of the requirements are difficult to meet.

"It's a daunting, daunting task … this is going to be on every taxpaying citizen in Bradley County," Bishop said.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak said it sounds like an unfunded mandate. Bishop agreed that is the case.

Commissioner Milan Blake asked if anyone has filed a lawsuit against Bradley County over accessibility. Hathcock said he is not aware of one; according to Bishop, Tennessee has had four lawsuits, in Loudon, Madison and Davidson counties, and the city of Memphis.

Bishop said they are trying to explore options for dealing with sidewalks in subdivisions.

"An amenity of a subdivision shouldn't be the burden of every taxpayer in Bradley County," she said.

For more information about the ADA transition plan, visit https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/civilrights/programs/ada/ada_sect504qa.cfm.

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