The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) committed a large chunk of money to repaving many of its roads last year. This year, the BOCC is tackling sidewalks.
The commissioners voted 6-1 on May 4 to spend $20 million from the county’s remaining pool of America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to address dangerous sidewalks damaged over the years by tree roots, vehicles and age. District 7 Commissioner Kimberly Overman was the lone dissenter, stating a preference that the $20 million be spent on addressing the affordable housing crisis instead.
The county received $285.9 million from the federal Covid-19 relief package in 2021 and, after the sidewalk appropriations, will have about $44 million remaining.
Which sidewalks will be fixed, and whether any of those are in New Tampa, won’t be known for another month or so (90 days from the meeting), and commissioners will meet with county planners to determine the areas of need.
District 2 commissioner Ken Hagan, who represents the New Tampa area, told commissioners at the meeting that, “sidewalk repairs and road resurfacing are by far the top requests to my office.”
Damaged and uneven sidewalks are a major concern, commissioners said. Hagan shared the story of one constituent who says their children wait in the street for the school bus in the morning because the sidewalks are so bad. In other cases, children and adults biking, the elderly out for a walk and those in wheelchairs are unable to use the sidewalk for basic things like getting to school, a store or a bus stop.
Tom Fesler, the county’s chief financial administrator, told commissioners that the county has paid out $2.5 million in claims over the last 10 years related to sidewalk trip-and-falls.
“It is one of the most significant items we have as far as claims to come to the county go,” Fesler said.
The Neighborhood News reported a story in July 2019 about the dangerous sidewalks in many of the seven neighborhoods that comprise Cross Creek. Jo-Ann Pilawski, the community association manager, said she had reported the sidewalks for years, but repairs were just added to a massive backlog. Instead, swatches of bright orange paint and dozens of orange safety cones were placed throughout the neighborhoods as warnings to pedestrians.
Three years later, the paint has faded, the cones are gone, and the uneven sidewalks remain.
Pilawski hopes the BOCC’s vote moves some of the repairs further up on the county’s to-do list.
“I keep calling,” she says.
Hagan said he has compiled a list from constituent phone calls to compare with what the county staff has come up with as to which sidewalks to address.
However, Hagan stressed that there is an 8-10 year backlog on sidewalk repairs and, at the BOCC meeting, commissioners agreed that $15 million of the $20 million voted for would be used to repair sidewalks in underserved areas.
Hillsborough County Public Works maintains more than 3,200 miles of sidewalks, with a budget of only about $550,000 a year to perform repairs. Last year, the county said it had nearly 2,500 open requests for sidewalk repairs, but the budget would only allow it to get to less than a third of those requests.
“The need is enormous,” Hagan said. “Hopefully, we are able to spread it around as much as possible and do as many sidewalks as possible.”