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.