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Royal Oak delays sidewalk program, cancels for now most road projects due to COVID-19

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 16, 2020

 On April 13, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to delay its sidewalk program for a year until spring 2021 and postpone most of its scheduled road projects due to COVID-19.

On April 13, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to delay its sidewalk program for a year until spring 2021 and postpone most of its scheduled road projects due to COVID-19.

File photo by Sarah Wojcik

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ROYAL OAK — Royal Oak will be much quieter this year.

On April 13, the Royal Oak City Commission voted to delay its sidewalk program for a year until spring 2021. It also followed Royal Oak Engineer Holly Donoghue’s recommendations to halt all road projects except a 14 Mile Road resurfacing project.

Most of the city’s construction projects were scheduled to begin April 13, Donoghue said, and several contractors reached out to the city for guidance on work limitations.

The state allows for limited forms of construction necessary to maintain safety, sanitation and essential operations during the emergency, but “any non-emergency maintenance or improvements to residences is not permitted,” according to michigan.gov.

Donoghue said most of the city’s projects are not considered critical to sustain or protect life and, therefore, recommended that the commission postpone all city and private projects in city rights of way until executive orders barring such activity expire.

The only exception is the Michigan Department of Transportation 14 Mile Road resurfacing project.

“The 2-mile resurfacing project, from Greenfield to Crooks, is something we’ve been trying to get done for about two years now,” Donoghue said. “The road’s in really bad shape. We have a ton of commuters that use it regularly, and this really is a pretty ideal time to get that work done when there’s so few people on the road.”

She said the contractor intends to move forward with the project while maintaining social distancing among crews to keep everybody safe.

“We look at it as a critical infrastructure project for our city, so that’s the one exception to our construction projects,” she said. “We’re also telling anyone that might have, for example, a right-of-way permit that might have road work to do or something kind of major in the right of way that they shouldn’t be doing any work as well.”

Donoghue gave the City Commission three options pertaining to the 2020 sidewalk program, slated to replace deficient sidewalks on the east side of the city: continue with construction in 2020 and standard billing in 2021, continue with construction in 2020 and allow for an extended bill due date, or postpone all work and begin the six-year program in spring 2021.

The commission unanimously voted to postpone the sidewalk program for a year in order to relieve residents of additional financial burdens in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donoghue said 57% of properties within the target area don’t have any sidewalk work proposed; 24% have approximately $100-$300 bills; and 19% have bills over $300 — $1,000 in some cases.

In 2019, the city of Royal Oak took a year off from its six-year sidewalk program to reevaluate and improve it after it faced objections from residents, especially those in northern subdivisions where sidewalks had never been installed. In the Sunnybrook Drive area, residents unsuccessfully sued the city over the program.

The new program relaxes the sidewalk differential standard from half an inch to 1 inch, allows residents to repair sidewalks themselves or hire a contractor instead paying the city to replace slabs, and leaves some cracked sidewalks in place.

“This is a fairly minor sidewalk program compared to years past — about $1 million of work — and we’re expecting it to take two months, so this is not even a concern I have in terms of schedule to get it done in the summer,” Donoghue said.

While the city delayed the sidewalk program, it still encourages residents to report sidewalk differentials of 2 inches or greater or that pose a trip hazard, and it will send crews out to repair them on an as-needed basis.

“This seems like a pretty reasonable thing to push back and give folks a little bit of relief before we get back to business,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said. “I think it’s a wise recommendation to wait a year and push the expense a year into the future.”

The mayor and other commissioners voiced similar sentiments.

“This is going to be a stressful year for everyone, whether they get a bill for the sidewalk program or not,” Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Paruch said.

Commissioner Sharlan Douglas modified her motion to postpone the program for a year to ask the Engineering Division to develop an extended payment plan for homeowners impacted by the sidewalk program, and Commissioner Melanie Macey seconded the motion.

For more information, visit romi.gov or call the Engineering Division at (248) 246-3260.

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