Sidewalk extension program gets green light

By: Jeremy Selweski | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published November 5, 2014

 Macomb Township plans to spend $5 million over the next 10 years to fill in the gaps between sidewalks along major roads. In 2015, the first year of the program, the top priority will be the area of 21 Mile and Heydenreich roads, pictured here.

Macomb Township plans to spend $5 million over the next 10 years to fill in the gaps between sidewalks along major roads. In 2015, the first year of the program, the top priority will be the area of 21 Mile and Heydenreich roads, pictured here.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — With the goal of creating a safer, more walkable community, township officials plan to spend $5 million over the next decade to complete the many unfinished public sidewalks that run along the township’s major roads.

According to Township Clerk Michael Koehs, the sidewalk gap closure program has been in the works for several years and is now finally coming to fruition. It will involve spending roughly $500,000 per year for at least the next 10 years to extend pathways all over the township, especially those that connect residents to local schools, parks, churches and business centers.

The extensive capital improvement plan was approved unanimously by the Macomb Township Board of Trustees on Oct. 22. The board also authorized funds to be allocated for the design work for the first year of the sidewalk program in 2015.

“This is the biggest request that we’ve gotten in our survey of activities since we first started our (Parks and Recreation) program,” Koehs told his colleagues. “This 10-year plan … it’s important to remember that it’s fluid. This is where it is today, but if we go one or two years down the road and we get more development in one place than we had anticipated, we can always modify this. But it does make a stated commitment, not just a promised commitment … to this type of activity.”

Township Engineer Jim Van Tiflin concurred, pointing out that as a community that’s still rapidly growing, the township’s sidewalk needs and priorities are constantly evolving. This means that township officials could choose to modify the plan on the fly, focusing on different areas of the township, devoting more or less money to the program, or completing projects faster or slower than originally planned.

“Obviously, 10 years is a long period of time,” Van Tiflin said, “(but) these projects aren’t necessarily set in stone. We’re going to have a lot of development in the township … over those 10 years, and we may decide that our priorities will change after a few years and we’ll get better bang for our buck if we fill in a particular gap based on a new development that has come in. … The idea would be that once we complete (one) year’s program, we would add another $500,000 worth of projects to that list, so we would always have 10 years looking ahead.”

According to Van Tiflin, one of the township’s engineering consultants recently reviewed a sidewalk study conducted by graduate students from the University of Michigan. The consultants used that study as the basis of the new sidewalk program, taking an inventory of all the gaps in the township’s existing sidewalk system, determining the cost of filling in each gap, prioritizing each project based on its location, and then making their final recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

“(They) basically focused on our schools, township parks and the commercial areas,” Van Tiflin said, “tying the residential (neighborhoods) around those areas, and … filling in all the gaps so we can have a more walkable community.”

The design costs for the first year of the program were estimated at $99,350 by the engineering firm Giffels Webster, which will be included as part of the $500,000 allocation for 2015. Van Tiflin pointed out that the township will primarily focus on the area of 21 Mile and Heydenreich roads, since there are four Chippewa Valley school buildings at that intersection, as well as the area around Waldenburg Park near 21 Mile and Romeo Plank roads.

As Koehs explained, “This is, above all, a safety issue. We need to make it safe for kids to walk to and from school, and for families to go up to the local ice cream shop, and for people to walk their dogs and ride their bikes. We’ve had a great deal of development over the last several years, but a lot of those developers did not put in sidewalks connecting all of those standalone subdivisions together. This (program) will secure all of the easements and right-of-ways that we need and allow us to start putting those sidewalks in the ground.”

Van Tiflin stated that for the first year of the program, he hopes to finish all the design work and acquire all the permits during the winter, so that township officials can go out for bid and get the best available prices in order to begin construction in the spring.

In future years, officials will continue to tackle similar high-priority areas near schools, parks, churches and businesses, as well as locations where they can get the most value for their money — the “low-hanging fruit,” as Van Tiflin put it. There are also many older homes in the township that were built along major roads but never had any sidewalks constructed in front of them.

It all adds up to an extremely ambitious endeavor with no clear end in sight. Van Tiflin stressed that the program will likely take close to 20 years to complete unless the Board of Trustees decides to allocate more than $500,000 per year to it.

“I don’t want anybody to believe that we’re going to get all this work done in 10 years, because that’s just not true,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more than $5 million worth of projects to do. But the first 10 years are the highest priority, and we will adjust things as we go along. We will do our best to spread things around the township and find a good balance of different areas.”

There are other factors to consider, as well, when assigning sidewalk priorities. Van Tiflin pointed out that the township would be able to save money by building sidewalks at the same time as previously scheduled road construction projects. The township is slated to widen or pave many of its roads over the next several years — such as the ongoing work along Hayes Road between 21 Mile and 23 Mile roads — so officials will make every effort to rebuild the adjacent sidewalks at the same time.

Another factor is the addition of residential developments all over the township. Van Tiflin recently reported that there are at least 15 new subdivisions in the works that will add about 1,800 new homes to the community. This continuous expansion will give township officials “a moving target” to hit, Van Tiflin said, which will require making adjustments every single year.

“As more and more subdivisions are built, there will be more and more gaps for us to fill in as additional sidewalks are needed,” he explained. “The good news is that we already have everything mapped out, and when all is said and done, this will make for a better, more walkable community. It will make it possible for residents to get from one end of the township to the other without using a car.”

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