The city isn’t quite sure how many streets do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but it does know there are a lot of them.
According to Cottage Grove City Manager Richard Meyers, it’s difficult to keep track of the number of streets that fall short of the requirements of the ADA because the city tracks them differently. Some may fall under one category while others, are listed elsewhere. The city has no one list that tracks ADA noncompliant streets.
And Cottage Grove is not alone.
In February of this year, an Oregon Department of Transportation audit revealed that 97 percent of the more 20,000 curbs and sidewalks inspected were not ADA-compliant. The audit was part of a settlement with Disability Rights Oregon, a group focused on the legal rights of individuals with disabilities. The group sued the state in 2017, citing the lack of compliance and the state was ordered to conduct the audit and agreed to pay $23 million toward ADA improvements for sidewalks and curbs to be completed by 2032.
“Even if someone complains, it’s pre-existing,” Meyers said of the curbs in Cottage Grove and the city’s legal responsibility in repairing them. Meyers did note that the city has continuously spent more of its system development charges (SDC) fees on upgrading curbs and sidewalks.
“If we do construction in an area and come across one that needs to be done, then we do it,” Meyers said. “But if there’s no new construction, no update to an existing business or area, then we don’t have to.”
That isn’t to say the city has no plans to address the issue. According to Meyers it comes down to two things: time and money.
In June of this year, the city council voted to allow city staff to apply for a $10 million grant that would go towards work detailed in the Main Street Refinement Plan. The plan includes several upgrades for downtown Main Street including lighting, a water system, electricity, signage and improving sidewalks and streets.
“If we get the grant, they’d all be done in five years. If not, it could be decades before we get them all done,” Meyers said. The city could also garner the funds if it moved forward with urban renewal, according to Meyers. Established federally in 1949 and in Oregon in 1951, an urban renewal area provides a financing mechanism for a city to complete projects aimed at expanding the tax base. Projects can include streetscaping, lighting, signage, storefront improvements or sewer and water infrastructure improvements. To complete these projects, the urban renewal area allows for the tax value within the area to be frozen. Taxes in the urban renewal area are still paid. However, tax growth within the area goes toward the urban renewal district.
The ADA was passed in 1990 and aimed to curb discrimination against individuals living with a disability and it covers several aspects of public life including school, transportation and emplyment.
It's undergone an amendment process that was approved in 2008 and the changes can be seen as cities continue to update their infrastructure.
"In some places you'll see the yellow buttons," Meyers said, citing the strips of yellow, raised material at some intersections just before the sidewalk gives way to the street. "It's so people with a hearing disability know, 'Oh, ok we're coming to the road..'"
The Sentinel opened the question to residents, asking for areas of concern around town with many residents noting that Main Street had several areas that are difficult for those with disabilities to navigate including stories of individuals falling off curbs and being injured and others of families that no longer dine at local restaurants because it is difficult to access the sidewalk from the street parking.
“Eventually, there needs to be some plan that says we’re replacing all of them (curbs) but we have 42 miles of sidewalks, double because there should be one on either side,” Meyers said. “It’s going to take time.”