Sidewalk `upgrade' a letdown in capital

WATCHDOG

August 14, 2007

THE PROBLEM

Navigating the narrow sidewalks on the south side of West Street between Linden and Locust avenues in Annapolis is like riding an amusement park roller-coaster, and one that is in not very good shape.

THE BACKSTORY

For the past two years, the State Highway Administration has been upgrading West Street west of downtown Annapolis between the Taylor Avenue roundabout and Route 2.

The section of West Street near Russell Street used to be lined with residences and is now filled with a hodgepodge of car dealerships, yarn shops and small, single-family houses converted into law offices and other businesses. Highway officials said the narrow and busy commercial strip needed to be repaved, and the sidewalks refurbished for wheel-chair access.

But several business owners are complaining that the work scheduled to end this fall is shoddy, especially the sidewalk.

Watchdog visited West Street between Linden and Locust avenues and found the sidewalk looking like the mouth of a poorly carved jack-o-lantern, rising up along front yards and dipping sharply to accommodate driveways. It was uneven, cracked and, in some places, blocked by fire hydrants and telephone poles planted in the middle.

Bill Lambros, a real estate agent who works out of his home on West Street, said the road is a gateway to the state capital. "It's a patchwork street," he said.

SHA spokeswoman Kellie Boulware said the $2 million project is designed to bring the sidewalk into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act. "It wasn't designed as a typical streetscape project," she said. "It's primarily for safety and to improve the area for pedestrians."

Boulware said some property owners have spurned offers to buy their roadside property, complicating the project: "Unfortunately people did not grant us access, so we could not make some improvements," she said. Lambros said he turned down a state offer for some of his front yard because it wasn't enough.

Before work started, Boulware said, a highway administration employee who uses a wheelchair rode on the sidewalks and advised workers on what improvements needed to be made. "The sidewalk may appear incomplete but it is" complete, the spokeswoman said.

But looking at the sidewalk, Watchdog cannot help but wonder how this is an improvement. The gap-tooth design was difficult to walk, and at one spot, it was impossible to get around a wooden telephone pole in the middle without stepping into the road or onto a yard. Anyone using a wheelchair would find this maneuver even more difficult, if not impossible.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Gregory Welker, chief of the SHA's District 5 office, 410-841-1000

UPDATE -- It is week three for an unpermitted billboard that has been hanging on the side of an apartment building on St. Paul Street in Mid-Town Belvedere. Last week, a city attorney with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City said she had issued a violation notice. Three weeks after first reporting the problem, the ad was still up yesterday. Watchdog will continue to monitor the situation.

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