Austin needs 2,580 miles of sidewalks, but funding is limited

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s got a sidewalk problem.

Many neighborhoods just don’t have them, and a new audit says the city only has the money for just three percent of the sidewalks it needs to be truly walkable.

That same audit also found the city needs to do a better job at making sure the new sidewalks it does build get inspections. 

According to the audit, Austin has about 2,400 miles of sidewalks already, but still needs more than 2,500 miles more. 

 “The need is huge,” Pirouz Moin, Interim Assistant Director of Public Works said. “Of the 2,400 miles of sidewalk that does exist, 80 percent of it is non-functional.”

Moin said the city is using the $37.5 million bond that voters passed in 2016 to add close to 60 miles of new sidewalks.

The audit explained, however, that funding addresses only 10 percent of the need for the 580 miles of highest priority sidewalks or 3 percent of all missing sidewalks.

“I’m a parent of a 5-year-old boy. I, like many parents, am scared of him walking down our street because we don’t have a sidewalk,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, Chair of Austin’s Pedestrian Advisory Council. “Unfortunately, all of us have gotten used to the idea that it’s scary to walk. There’s nowhere to walk.”

He wishes the city would direct more funding toward repairing existing sidewalks or building new ones.

“For the price of say one freeway interchange, you can do several years of the City of Austin planned sidewalk budget,” he said. 

Moin explained the average cost of building is a sidewalk is about $25 per square foot. That’s after taking into considerationg the permitting, engineering and construction.

“It’s not only sidewalk they’re building,” he said. “In many cases, we have to build retaining walls. If there’s a drop next to the sidewalk, we have to build railing.”

Moin went on to explain: “When you’re talking about miles of sidewalk, at five feet wide, then it becomes expensive.”

Moin told KXAN the Public Works Department will use funding from the 2018 bond for sidewalk projects. He also said they’ll add a registered accessibility specialist to follow the audit’s recommendation to make sure all new sidewalks are inspected for accessibility. 

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