TAMPA — Fix the roads for vehicle travel, but don’t forget to repair where people walk on the sides of them, too.
That is the apparent strategy of the Hillsborough County Commission, which is poised to allocate $20 million from its share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act to repair sidewalks.
The spending, scheduled to be considered by commissioners Wednesday, follows a decision last year to initially earmark $35 million — and then bump it another $5 million — from the same pot of money to resurface and repair roads. The county received $285.9 million from the federal COVID-19 relief package and the sidewalk allocation reduces the remaining unencumbered amount to $44 million.
The exact location of the new sidewalks won’t be spelled out for another 90 days, but the county said three-quarters of the spending will be targeted to areas where a majority of residents have low or moderate incomes.
That could include nine areas the county designated in 2021 for neighborhood revitalization efforts, which include better sidewalks. That list includes the University area, East Lake/Orient Park, Gibsonton, Palm River, Ruskin, Town & Country and Wimauma.
Commissioner Ken Hagan said pleas for road and sidewalks repairs are the top two public requests his office receives. Sidewalks that are deteriorating or damaged by tree roots aren’t just a matter of pedestrian inconvenience. They are dangerous, he said.
Hagan told the Tampa Bay Times about a complaint a few years ago in which the poor condition of a sidewalk off Gunn Highway prevented a person confined to a wheelchair from being able to reach the nearest bus stop.
“It may seem like a small issue, but it significantly improves quality of life for our residents,” said Hagan.
There is no shortage of potential work.
A year ago, staff told commissioners it budgets $550,000 annually for repairs to its 3,200 miles of sidewalks. That was enough money to fix 17 miles of sidewalks over a 10-year period. Ideally, the county staff said it should budget $10 million a year to fix more than 300 miles over a decade.
If similar cost estimates hold true, then the county would be able to fix approximately 61 miles of sidewalks with the $20 million allocation.
Likewise, in May 2021, the county said it had more than 2,400 open requests for sidewalk repairs, some dating as far back as 2011. Without an influx of money, the county would get to only 750 of those repair locations over the next decade.
“It sounds like this is wonderful news, and it is,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen. “But it’s such a drop in the bucket compared to what we have to do and how long our priority list is.”