Long-delayed Tates Creek sidewalk project is likely to begin in 2012

Meetings, land acquisition slow project approved 21/2 years ago

bfortune@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2011 

The Urban County Council approved a controversial project to build sidewalks along a portion of Tates Creek Road 2½ years ago, but construction has yet to start.

Runners, walkers and a few brave cyclists still travel a worn dirt path along the busy south Lexington thoroughfare.

"Everyone is definitely wondering why it's taking so long. We have even brought it up at neighborhood meetings," said Beverly Futrell, who lives on Breckenwood Drive near Tates Creek and frequently walks to the Lansdowne Shoppes, about a half-mile from her house.

Keith Lovan of the city's engineering department said several reasons have contributed to the delay. "Getting funding in place. Numerous public meetings after council approved the project. Hiring a consultant. More public meetings. Revising the project based on public meetings. Getting the plans done," he said.

"We're just now beginning to talk to property owners," he said last week.

When Tates Creek was widened several years ago, the state highway department bought rights-of-way along the road, 10 to 20 feet back from the curb. Of 80 privately owned parcels along the stretch where the sidewalks are planned, the city is having to acquire additional easement on 27 parcels — ranging from a foot or two to 20 feet. "We didn't know we would have to do this, going into the project," Lovan said.

Owners are being offered $500 to $7,000 based on the fair market value of the property.

Offers to three churches — Immanuel Baptist, Centenary Methodist and Tates Creek Christian — will be considerably more because the city is taking more land. The amount the city is offering the churches will be kept confidential until sales are concluded.

Buying the additional rights-of-way has been time consuming. "We only have one right-of-way person doing it all, so it is taking time," Lovan said.

A portion of a brick wall at 2721 Tates Creek will have to come down. The wall was built 24 years ago, apparently without a building permit, and extends "significantly into the easement," Lovan said. Owner Jeri Vaughan said the city had not told her how much of the wall must be razed.

The sidewalks will be installed to avoid most of the trees along the road, but about eight trees will be taken down. The city will replant about three times that number, he said.

The city anticipates construction to begin in 2012.

The 5-foot wide sidewalks — compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act — will extend from Lakewood and Montclair drives to Dove Run Road on both sides of the street.

Bicyclists will be able to ride on the sidewalks. Bicycles are allowed on sidewalks outside the downtown business district, Lovan said.

The cost is projected at $1 million.

"We are still within budget," Lovan said. Council voted in June 2009 to accept a federal grant of $811,000 for the sidewalks. The city will contribute the remainder. Lovan said the money had been set aside for the project.

Sidewalks are first and foremost a public safety issue, say proponents, but they also will encourage people to walk and bike more.

Futrell said there's no place to walk along Tates Creek Road except in the edges of yards or in the street. "If we had sidewalks, it would encourage more people to walk instead of getting in their cars to go a half-mile to the Lansrdowne Shoppes, or in the other direction to Chevy Chase," she said.

Council member Bill Farmer, whose district includes the east side of Tates Creek, is "completely in favor" of the sidewalks. He said he was "sorry they are taking so long to complete."

Farmer said that when his son was small, they used to try to ride their bikes to The Arboretum on Alumni Drive. "Sidewalks will truly make a difference for parents like me and a host of others who want to be more active," he said.

Lextran, the city's public transit authority, has eight bus stops between New Circle Road and Lakewood and Montclair drives. Lextran officials are concerned about public safety.

"Sidewalks would allow people to safely reach their bus stop, particularly if they are in a wheelchair or have some other mobility device," spokeswoman Jill Barnett said.

"For people in general, sidewalks give people a place to walk and to stand. They have to stand in a wet muddy spot," she said. "It's a little bit more passenger-friendly."

Opponents have focused on how they say sidewalks would ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood. "Our concerns all along have been safety, aesthetics and cost," said resident John McCarty.

He said it was helpful when the city established a Web site — Tates Creek Sidewalk Project — to keep citizens better informed.

Council member Julian Beard, whose district includes the west side of Tates Creek, opposes the sidewalks, saying other parts of the city need sidewalks more.

"It's a lot of money, and what do you get for it?" Beard commented. "People who live on Tates Creek are not going to walk with a little basket on their arm to Lansdowne shopping center. They're going to get in their Mercedes and drive."

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