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Sidewalk Issues Rise, Despite $700K in Repairs

Chatham Borough's damaged slabs increases by 1,000 since 2004.

Using data from the 2012 sidewalk survey, Vincent J. DeNave, the engineer for Chatham Borough, once again warned the council of the growing cost of sidewalk maintenance.

For the 2012 survey, DeNave had one of the borough's summer interns, Ryan James, walk every sidewalk in town, over 25 miles, and note the location every cracked, uneven or otherwise deficient slab.

James, an engineering student at Lehigh University, also took a photo of all deficient sidewalks and noted what the deficiency was and whether the damage is the responsibility of the borough or of private property owners. The final survey includes over 2,000 photos.

Since 2004, the borough has spent $740,000 in sidewalk repairs and new sidewalk installation. 

"It started off at $50,000 a year went towards sidewalks," DeNave said. "Beginning in 2008, it went up to $100,000 a year, ... because [at that level] we had a little bit more room to take care of the deficient sidewalks."

Despite the investment, DeNave said, the number of damaged sidewalk slabs has grown from 6,600 in 2004 to 7,600 in 2012.

"In eight years, we spent $740,000, and we went backwards. We're back 1,000 slabs," DeNave said.

Councilman James Collander said, "This is why some communities don't put in sidewalks. ... When we look at new sidewalks, whatever it costs to put a slab in, what we're looking at is a trail of money that's going to have to be spent to maintain that sidewalk."

Mayor Bruce Harris pointed out that under borough law, sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of the property owner. The borough has not enforced that law, Harris said.

. He urged them again Monday to repeated his advice to either enforce the ordinance or prepare to spend money on sidewalks every year.

"We have a sidewalk problem," DeNave said. "If we continue, 65 percent of the 7,600 slabs need to have a citation submitted to those property owners. Otherwise it's half a million dollars the borough's going to have to come up with. So I just think a decision is going to have to be made."

DeNave said no more than 35 percent of those 7,600 slabs were damaged because of borough trees. Even where the borough has replaced damaged slabs, shifted the sidewalk and trimmed tree roots, DeNave said, "five years later we're back again" replacing the same slabs and trimming the same roots.

Harris said he has noticed people walking with strollers or jogging in the streets rather than using sidewalks. "You find out they're in the street because it's a smoother surface," he said.

Council President James Lonergan noted that the Shade Tree Committee has discussed forcing new trees to be planted at least 10 ft. from the sidewalks, "especially when you consider the impact of the trees on sidewalks and on the telephone [and power] wires."

DeNave pointed out that new sidewalks, especially near schools, have made a positive impact on pedestrian safety for children who walk to school. "I think that people focus on what's wrong, but there are a lot of things that have gone, I think, right," DeNave said.

Major sidewalk investments made by the borough in the last four years include:

  • $130,000 to install sidewalks on the north and south sides of Watchung Avenue between Washington Avenue and Lafayette Avenue in 2008. "It's a much safer situation," DeNave said.
  • , completed in August 2010. "We took children off the street and made it safer," DeNave said.

The council also approved plans for a earlier this year.

MOCK August 15, 2012 at 11:19 AM
When we moved here, we were told upfront that the sidewalk in front was our responsibility. I hope the town chooses to keep to the current code and have the individual deal with their home repair rather than using tax dollars.
Sir August 15, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Why should the homeowner be responsible when it is a public right of way? Should they also be responsible for pot holes in the road in front of their property line? Seems like a comedy of errors on this one. We pay enough in taxes where you should be able to allocate enough dollars to include this as a line item. Additionally, find a contractor that will guarantee his work.
PaddleTennisPlayer August 15, 2012 at 05:27 PM
What the issue is, is that the damage of the sidewalks went up about 1,000 over the 2004-2012 period, meaning that about in the 9 years, about 111 of the sidewalk slabs have been damaged every year. This damage is taking our tax dollars and spending it on the damage done to the 1K sidewalk slabs that need to be fixed. DeNave said that, "It started off at $50,000 a year went towards sidewalks," Then he also added, "Beginning in 2008, it went up to $100,000 a year, ... because [at that level] we had a little bit more room to take care of the deficient sidewalks." The budget had increased rapidly. The major sidewalk investments were created with a total of $180K to make new sidewalks near schools to make the safer. As I do think that these make the town safer, there could of been better ways to save the tax dollars and still make the town safe to walk around. When Council President James Lonergan noted that the Shade Tree Committee has discussed forcing new trees to be planted at least 10 ft. from the sidewalks, this is going to be a huge issue. What are you going to do? Come to our property and chop down a tree for "safer sidewalks"? I do think that safer sidewalks are good but we need oxygen, and oxygen comes from trees. I must not say any more about the amount of trees in this town when there is only one tree from a section of Main Street. What my question is, is the town going to demand us to cut down the tree or a company to barge in and chop a tree down?
kjchat August 15, 2012 at 06:39 PM
increasing taxes and fees and decreasing serivces need to be addressed.... for the amount of taxes I pay I expect much more... I see no benefit for the recent 7% increase... none...
L22 August 15, 2012 at 10:23 PM
agreed...we pay more and get less. When is the year that Borough residents are going to stand together to say ENOUGH? Why can this town not hold the line on property taxes, ever? We do not have bottomless pockets, especially in this ecomony. Not to even mention the recent increase in water bills....
Lulu August 17, 2012 at 12:59 PM
I have never encountered a single homeowner, myself included, who has asked the town to put a sidewalk on his/her property. They are nothing but work for a homeowner. In the winter they must be shovelled and salted, in the fall swept free of leaves and throughout the year cleaned of debris left by children walking to and from school -- all so that the town folk have a safe path to walk on. The bottom line is sidewalks benefit Everyone in town but the homeowner. Now the town wants the homeowner to pay for the "priviledge" of allowing everyone to walk on repaired sidewalks? We do pay, that's what tax dollars are for -- allocate enough to pay for sidewalk repars......PERIOD!

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