Sunday, June 12, 2011

In Pennsylvania, residents complain about dangerous curb cuts to nowhere

From the Reading Eagle in Pa:

A new wheelchair-accommodating curb ramp in Maidencreek Township leads from a busy intersection to a large area of tennis-ball-size stones that would be treacherous for the handicapped to cross.

The ramps at the other three corners of the intersection of Route 73 and Park Road end in grass and, in one case, the side and front of a brick home.

Eileen Gordner (pictured), who lives nearby, said she couldn't believe it when she saw the ramps being installed recently.

"This benefits nobody," she said. "If this is money set aside for those with disabilities, it could be much better spent to help them."

Gordner complained to state legislators, who told her the ramps are required to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and are being funded by federal economic stimulus money.

Despite the explanation, she got nothing but agreement Friday from state Sen. David G. Argall and state Rep. Jerry P. Knowles, Schuylkill County Republicans who represent parts of Berks.

They met with Gordner at the intersection to show her a letter they are sending to members of Congress.

U.S. Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, a Chester County Republican who represents part of Berks, was sympathetic.

"Bureaucrats in Washington rarely understand local needs," he said. "This is just one of the reasons I voted against a stimulus bill that cost us more than $1 trillion."

Other members of the Berks delegation could not be reached for comment Friday.

"We don't have enough money to fix our roads and bridges, so it's crazy to be building sidewalks to nowhere," Argall said.

They agreed with Gordner that local officials should have input into whether the ramps are needed.

Maidencreek is one of 29 Berks municipalities where the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation started installing 415 new curb ramps in August 2009 as part of a $2.46 million stimulus project that will be finished in July.

"We understand some people may feel this isn't the most prudent use of money, but it is a law that has to be adhered to and there's no way around it," said PennDOT spokesman Ronald J. Young Jr.

As for the ramps that don't appear to go anywhere, they do serve a purpose, he said.

"That is to provide a refuge area for the disabled person to wait (for traffic to clear)," he said.

Argall put the project in the same category of frustration as two other federally mandated projects that have angered Berks taxpayers recently:

•Street signs are being replaced nationwide by 2018 with signs that will be more reflective and easier to read. The federal mandate, which did not come with any funding, will cost many Berks municipalities thousands of dollars. Argall said it could cost $10 million statewide.

•Earlier this year the state began replacing 11 wheelchair ramps in Lyons that generally lead to grass and other areas difficult for wheelchairs to cross because the ramps no longer comply with ADA designs. The state is spending $800 million to replace 117,000 curb ramps, including hundreds in Berks County.

Even advocates for the disabled have said money on ramps to nowhere could be better spent.

"It's ludicrous during the time when we're having such financial difficulties," Knowles said.

Maidencreek Township supervisors agreed the ramps weren't necessary and showed up Friday to support the legislators' letter.

"If we took all that money, you could do something that actually means something," Supervisor Claude Beaver said.

Supervisor Roy Timpe added that the ramp mandates began under President George H.W. Bush.

"This shows how long it can take for projects to get to the money-wasting phase," Timpe said.

"I don't care where they started, someone needs to say, 'No,' " Gordner added.

Argall pointed out that the ramps, which were intended to make intersections safer for the handicapped, could make them more dangerous.

"They could encourage people to go where they really ought not to go," he said.