Bee Investigator: Modesto sidewalk inquiry unearths startling facts

snowicki@modbee.comApril 21, 2013 

    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
    Recent stories written by Sue

— I've worked at The Bee for more than 30 years, so not much surprises me in this business. But I got a shock when I followed up on a couple of questions about sidewalks in Modesto.

Did you know that the city's sidewalk budget is 10 years behind for permanent repairs and upgrades?

Yeah, my jaw dropped, too. Keep reading:

Two readers wrote about unrelated sidewalk problems. Bonnie Kyle, who lives in the Naraghi Lakes development, complained about unsightly black asphalt patches used to fix the sidewalk in front of her home. When I drove by to take a look, I saw that the city's repair crew had chipped away the cement on two sides of a root-lifted portion of sidewalk and used the asphalt to "temporarily" fix the walking hazard.

Greg Chatham, who lives on East Granger near Sunrise, wondered why he "and many others in Modesto do not have sidewalks. Do we as a collective neighborhood not pay enough taxes for the city to help? When I walk to work, I have to walk in gravel and sometimes on the street, where I come close to getting hit by cars. I think pedestrians should always have more privileges than motorists.

"We are a clean city for the most part, so why can't every street have a full sidewalk? All I ask for out of the tax money I pay is for a gosh dang sidewalk in my neck of the woods."

Granger is one of those streets that has now-you-see-'em, now-you-don't sidewalks — a little here, nothing there. In Greg's case, there is a sidewalk on the rest of his block, but none in front of his corner home and none across the street. Why?

Considered best solution

I contacted Dennis Turner, Modesto's director of public works. In regard to Bonnie's complaint, he said his department tries to "mitigate any tripping hazard within 24 hours of having knowledge. This is our first priority."

They either grind down the concrete to eliminate uneven pavement "and consider it fully repaired," or if the sidewalk is beyond that kind of repair, they use an asphalt patch on it "and place it on a list to be cut out and replaced at a future date. The asphalt patch is certainly not pretty, but it is the best solution we have found, and it helps us meet our ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance commitment."

Responding to a follow-up question, Turner said the city's annual curb, gutter, sidewalk and other cement work is "$1.1 million each year. At the current rate of funding, we are over 10 years behind. This includes damage, as well as upgrades that are needed as part of our ADA compliance plan."

But, he added, "that does not mean a repair will take 10 years. If we come into an area to do repairs, we fix all of the known areas while we are there. In addition, if we do major street repairs, we fix the ADA, curb, gutter and sidewalk issues at the same time. We have found this to be the most cost-effective approach."

I guess that means if more of Bonnie's neighbors have problems, she might get her sidewalk permanently fixed with cement. Otherwise, those black patches could be there for a decade. Wow.

As for Greg's problem, the situation is even worse. The city won't install sidewalks on his street.

"The property owner, business or developer is responsible for installing sidewalks," Turner said. Neighborhoods without sidewalks were built before sidewalk standards were introduced or when the areas were not yet incorporated into the city, he said. "The city does not have a plan to install sidewalks in areas that do not have them."

Sometimes, Turner said, a neighborhood will get together to install a block or more of sidewalks, with the owners sharing the costs. Occasionally, he added, those kind of improvements can find funding, such as from the state's Safe Routes to Schools grants. He said he would be willing to talk with groups about funding sidewalks.

Residents foot the bill

Otherwise, it's up to the individual homeowner, who would first have to get permits from the city and contact the community and economic development department to determine the conditions and cost of those permits.

"There are many concrete contractors who do this kind of work," he said. "When the city uses a contractor, it costs us about $6.50 per square foot to replace sidewalk. New sidewalk could be a little cheaper if there is no removal of old concrete. If, on the other hand, there is a lot of preparatory work, it could cost more."

In other words, Greg, your taxes could pay for repairs once the sidewalk is in place, but unless you and your neighbors form a group and win a grant, you'll have to foot the initial cost of installing a sidewalk yourself.


NEXT WEEK: Phone scams.

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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