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A year after boys’ death, sidewalk hasn’t started

A month after two young boys were struck and killed by a delivery truck driver in February 2012, the City Council voted to jump-start sidewalks along the stretch of West Tyvola Road.

More than a year later, construction hasn’t started – and the sidewalk likely won’t be done for another two years.

The timeline highlights the challenge for the city to move forward with such projects quickly, even when the plans have political support.

A thicket of local and state rules covering everything from public hearings to real estate acquisition to bidding the actual construction means the sidewalk probably won’t be completed until June 2015. Those rules can help save taxpayer money and protect neighbors from sidewalks they don’t want.

Even the notoriously slow criminal justice system can move faster: Last week, a jury found a delivery truck driver guilty in the wreck that killed Kadrien Pendergrass, 5, and his 1-year-old brother, Jeremy Brewton, as they were walking along West Tyvola Road at Shady Lane.

“That’s a long time for them to say they’re going to have a sidewalk and still not have one,” said Rochelle Coleman, who walks the road nearly every day with her two young children, ages 4 and 11 months. “It’s very dangerous: The cars have to literally go into the other lane to let you pass. And kids – they do (unpredictable) things. They need sidewalks.”

A month after the brothers died, the City Council voted unanimously to fund four sidewalk projects – including the one for West Tyvola Road. Before the fatal incident, it had been No. 2 on a priority list of projects the city didn’t then have the money to cover.

In the 14 months since then, officials said, the city has held two public hearings to get neighborhood input, and city engineers have designed 90 percent of the sidewalk. It will be built from Old Steele Creek Road to West Boulevard on the northeast side of Tyvola.

Still to do: More public hearings this summer; real estate acquisition, including negotiations with landowners (starting in August); bidding the project to prospective contractors (in August 2014); and start of construction (November 2014).

“Each of those pieces has a time frame,” said City Engineer Jeb Blackwell. “We’re trying to work through them as quickly as possible, but there are legal (requirements).”

Some sidewalk projects are controversial, even unwanted, which city officials pointed to as another reason for making sure there’s a process and rules.

But the young boys’ deaths on West Tyvola led to an outcry from residents, who said the lack of a sidewalk spelled danger for children and others.

Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who chairs the City Council’s community safety committee, floated the idea this week of speeding up construction of a sidewalk just for the curvature at Shady Lane – the corner where the brothers were struck – while the larger project winds its way through the process.

“From my perspective, it’s a public safety issue that needs be addressed. Now,” Cannon told the Observer. “There are a handful of people that walk that stretch often and are subjected to being hit by a car.”

But city engineers told him his idea wasn’t feasible, saying such a short sidewalk wouldn’t do much if it weren’t connected to a longer one – making it “a sidewalk that would ultimately lead to nowhere,” Cannon said he was told.

Blackwell said such a “sub-project” could take time and resources away from the larger West Tyvola sidewalk project and not bring much benefit.

“I’m not sure people are standing at that corner,” he said, noting it’s not a bus stop.

The neighborhood is in the district represented by City Council member LaWana Mayfield. She offered another possible scenario for faster completion of sidewalk: Smooth negotiations between the city and landowners over acquisition of property needed to construct the project.

“If landowners see the value in the sidewalk, and they’re able to negotiate rates, this (process) could be quicker,” she said. “We have fast-tracked this process as fast as we can.”

City and state rules, for example, require Charlotte officials “to be as fair as possible (with landowners), to try to give them a fair market value,” Mayfield said. “But we also have to be conservative with taxpayers’ money.”

And the community hearings are needed, Mayfield said, to find out things such as which side of the road should get the sidewalks.

The council member said she’s heard no complaints about the long timetable.

“I made sure there was no misunderstanding about how fast this process would be: This is not an overnight process; it does take time,” Mayfield said. “I have received no calls from the community regarding the process. … The staff is working on it. It is still a top priority.”

But Coleman and another resident of the neighborhood said it is way past time for a full sidewalk along West Tyvola.

“Two years to me is an awful long time. It’s crazy,” said Curtis Lassiter, who walks the road every day with his dog, Purple. “We’ve got to dodge in and out of traffic. Or we just have to stop and wait for everything to pass.”

Added Coleman: “This should have been done by now. Kids are walking up and down this street. And for two more years? Everybody here thinks there should be a sidewalk.”

Funk: 704-358-5703
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