Sidewalk complaint investigated by Federal Highway Administration

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By David Meade

A complaint filed last year by Williamston resident Tim Williams resulted in an investigation into the condition of a sidewalk in Williamston and the town being required to provide a list of planned improvements for streets and sidewalks to the Federal Highway Administration in response to the complaint.

The town was found to be in violation on that particular sidewalk, but has submitted a response that brought them into compliancey, Williamston officials said. The sidewalk Williams based his complaint on is tentatively scheduled for improvements in 2017.

After complaining to Williamston Mayor Carthel Crout about the condition of the sidewalk located in front of his residence on East Main St., Williams sent a complaint of discrimination, on behalf of his wife, to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in May of 2010.

The complaint alleged a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 because the town failed to provide sidewalks in front of his house on East Main St. that met ADA standards for accessibility.

According to correspondence Williams received from Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office, which included correspondence from the Federal Highway Administraion (FHWA), the complaint was forwarded from The Departmental of Civil Rights to the FHWA in December, 2010.

In early 2011, the FHWA SC Division investigated the complaint and reported that an onsite review of the area revealed that the sidwalks had cracks in the concrete and no curb ramps and detectable warnings, as Williams’ complaint had pointed out.

The FHWA notified the town in May that the investigation determined that town sidewalks and curb ramps did not meet ADA standards and that the town did not have a plan to make those sidewalks and curb ramps accessible to persons with disabilities.

The investigation also found that the town did not have funding identified for projects to make the necessary improvements.

In the meantime, Williams said he had not received any information and requested Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office to look into the situation.

Williams received a response from Graham’s office on Dec. 7 which included the letter stating that the FHWA found that the town had violated the ADA by failing to have a reasonable plan to make the town’s sidewalks and curb accessible to persons with disabilities.

According to the FHWA, to be in compliance, the town needed to develop a reasonable plan that identified the location of the sidewalks and curb ramps that need to be improved and at the projected time for the improvements.

According to the FHWA letter, the plan should reflect the need to improve police stations, polling places, libraries and schools first, followed by other priorities.

Williamston Town Administrator Phyllis Lollis said that the town had responded to the FHWA after the investigation earlier this year. According to Lollis, the investigation was specifically for the sidewalk in front of Williams house on East Main St., in response to a complaint he had made.

The town’s first response in October was not detailed enough, Lollis said. On Nov. 3, the town responded to the SC Division of the FHA in Columbia with a more detailed plan which sufficiently met the FHWA requirements.

Lollis stated that the town provided a list of streets and sidewalks in need of improvement over a 10 year period. The prioritized list is contingent on funding being available. Lollis also stated that the town is seeking grants to help fund the projects.

On the Town’s list are paving or resurfacing on three street projects which have just been completed and sixteen others planned between 2012 and 2021.

The sidewalk Williams complained about is on the list as a sidewalk project on East Main St., which is identified as “a very small section of sidewalk with minimal foot traffic.”

Based on the town’s plan, the sidewalk in front of Williams house will be improved in the order of priority for the plan. The improvements to the sidewalk, which is listed as low pedestrian volume, residential only sidewalk on East Main St., is scheduled to occur in 2017, after higher pedestrian volume sidewalks near schools and commercial areas have been improved.

According to the FHWA letter, scheduling does not require sidewalk repairs to occur on the schedule preferred by any one individual, but in balance with the overall responsibilities of the town.

Mayor Carthel Crout said that the town is focusing on projects that will affect the most people. He said that any planned sidewalk improvements require necessary engineering and other requirements to make the sidewalk ADA compliant.

“We can’t send a town crew out and replace a section of a sidewalk,” Crout said. “There has to be engineering on any project and once a project is touched, it has to be brought into ADA compliance,” he said. “We can’t just fix cracks.”

According to Crout, ADA requires the sidewalk to be 1.5 foot wider and for it to have the required curb ramps and warnings. He estimated the improvements to the portion of sidewalk in question, approximately 100 feet, will be $18,000 to $20,000.

In a Letter to the Editor in this weeks Journal, Williams states that, “We as taxpayers come in at the bottom of their priority list, perhaps by 2017 when they plan to repair our sidewalks.

Williams points out that the town has provided new sod and landscaping for town hall, a new gazebo in the park and are planning new landscaping and parking lot behind town hall which will include a new sidewalk.

Williams also said that the sidewalk repair is far down the list yet the town has provided insurance for councilmembers which is paid by taxpayers, a pay raise for the mayor and administrator. The letter also claims that the town paid for a new drive way for a person identified as “a councilman’s good friend.”

Crout said that the town had recently provided an apron and culvert for a residence near Williams’ residence on East Main St., which he said was sharing a driveway with a neighbor.

Crout acknowledged that the town has spent money on improvements at the Municipal Center and Mineral Spring Park.

“As we improve things in town, it is a stimulus for businesses and people in the town to make theirs look better,” he said.