In 2018 and 2019, Connecticut’s Department of Transportation spent about $3.5 million on new sidewalk ramps statewide. The new ramps are compliant with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) standards that permit wheelchairs, walkers and strollers access to sidewalks.
“About a year ago it was mandated that when the DOT is engaging in substantial roadway projects we have to address the sidewalk ramps as well to meet the new ADA requirements,” said Kevin Nursick, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Tranportation (CTDOT).
The latest requirements include not only a gradual ramp to the street level, but also a grooved track pad for easier traction on the ramp.
Across the state, towns have been piecemeal — sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly depending on local development — replacing sidewalks to improve accessibility.
“Sidewalks especially accessible sidewalks are extremely critical for some people. They can make the difference between getting from your home to work, or to shop, or getting to the bus,” said Gretchen Knauff, the executive director of Disability Rights Connecticut. “You can’t underestimate sidewalk access. People don’t want to be in the road. Sidewalks could mean the difference between isolation and being a participant in your community.
In addition to sidewalks, Knauff said that it is important for towns to consider the length of time individuals are given to cross the street. If it is too short, that is also a lack of access to some people with disabilities.
“It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to one or two people it can make a huge difference,” said Carl Fortuna, first selectman of Old Saybrook, regarding a new sidewalk ramp installed recently in downtown Old Saybrook. It’s one of several new ramps installed on Main street by CTDOT since 2018.
“The sidewalk project has all been part of a $500,000, two-year 2019-2020 sidewalk investment we are making all over town to make Old Saybrook even more walkable than it already is,” Fortuna said. “We are only replacing and repairing damaged sidewalk. We are not building new sidewalks or replacing sidewalks that are in good condition. The feedback has been great from the public.”
The Town of Old Lyme has also begun installing new ADA complaint sidewalks on Hartford Ave from Bocce Lane to Pond Road. None of the sidewalks on Lyme Street meet ADA standards, but First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said that a connectivity grant will allow the town to install accessible sidewalks from Bocce Lane to Route 156.
“Lyme Street was last paved around 2004-5. We generally anticipate repaving every 20 years, depending upon the amount of traffic on the road and condition of the road,” Reemsnyder said. “At this time there is no plan to replace sidewalks on Lyme Street, though repairs would be done as needed.”
Under the new mandate, such repairs would trigger ADA compliance. But replacing or repairing sidewalks, although it may sound simple, is not cheap.
Like Old Saybrook, East Lyme began a redesign of their downtown streetscape over ten years ago to improve accessibility.
The project has cost well over $1 million, funded in part with four Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants, not only to install compliant sidewalks, but also to add benches and streat lamps, said First Selectman Mark Nickerson.
“We just did the sidewalk across from the high school to make it a signaled cross walk with ramps to the street. We do have some kids with mobility issues, three so we know they are using it,” Nickerson said. This coming year another sidewalk along Columbus Ave will installed to allow individuals to walk, or roll, all the way to the beach. The project will cost more than $100,000.
These projects have allowed individuals who live at the Crescent Point assisted-living facility to more easily get outside, take walks with family and enjoy East Lyme, said Nickerson.
Even with all of these downtown projects, most towns along the shoreline will not have replaced sidewalks on side streets for several more years.
“We are doing our best, but we have over 24 miles of sidewalk and 120 miles of road, so a big three-day snow storm is a lot of work and a lot of money, on top of regular maintenance and repairs,” Nickerson said.