Chatham selectmen heard the details of a recent comprehensive sidewalk management plan and the news was rather discouraging. There are 11 miles of sidewalks in town and 265 curb ramps, much of which requires repair or upgrade. The good news is that this inventory allows the town to rank the condition of sidewalks and curbs and determine how to prioritize repairs; only 1.78 miles are ranked as excellent, with more than five miles rated fair or poor. The bad news is that to take care of all of the needs, based on current funding, would take more than two decades.
Most years the town appropriates $100,000 for sidewalk repairs and construction, which allows crews to work on about 2,000 linear feet of sidewalk and 13 to 16 curb ramps. Extrapolating that out to 11 miles and 265 ramps yields a timeframe of about 27 years. That's a long time to wait for the sidewalk along your street to be repaired.
DPW Director Tom Temple suggested doubling the annual appropriation, which would result in just over two miles of sidewalk repairs in three years, but a better idea would be to ask voters to approve a bond issue for $3 million or more that can be drawn on over a period of five to 10 years and tackle sidewalk repairs beginning with the most dire areas. Having the funding available would allow officials to shift the work areas when specific needs arise. This approach is similar to the way the town is treating its waterfront infrastructure needs; an $11 bond was approved several years ago to cover the cost of a list of shorefront projects, with the idea that should any one project shift in priority the funds would still be there to cover it.
The plan also highlights how few sidewalks there are in town. Although it's unclear from the report and presentation, Route 28 takes up a significant amount of the total sidewalks in town. The only other major stretches are downtown and the Old Village, where sidewalks recently received a much-needed upgrade. Chatham needs more sidewalks, and that should be part of the overall plan. Areas that should be seriously examined for sidewalks include Shore Road, stretches of Route 28 in North Chatham, and yes, Stage Harbor Road should be revisited. With a number of historic homes there either lost or compromised, one of the main reasons for rejecting sidewalks on Stage Harbor Road a few years ago may no longer be valid. It's part of the popular walking “loop” and safety dictates that sidewalks be serious considered again.
To be friends to families and visitors, Chatham needs to take care of its sidewalks. The new sidewalk management plan provides a start on doing that. Officials need to take it to the next level.