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Transportationby Fern Shen11:14 amJun 30, 20210

Baltimore’s estimate of the cost of ADA compliance – a whopping $657 million

In the wake of a class action suit, DOT releases a report assessing streets and sidewalks that don’t conform with the 1990 federal disability law

Above: There is no curb ramp at all on Westwood Street in West Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Baltimore’s streets and alleys are well known to be mostly lined with raggedy, obstructed sidewalks and improperly constructed or non-existent curb ramps that violate the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Now following the filing of a federal class action lawsuit by three wheelchair users, transportation officials have released a very precise estimate of the cost of bringing all public rights-of-way into compliance with the 31-year-old federal law: $657 million.

That figure comes from a newly released draft copy of the city’s self-evaluation of its ADA compliance, available for public comment until July 28.

When finalized, DOT said on its website this week, the report will be used to develop a transition plan “which will help bring the non-compliant pedestrian facilities up to current ADA standards and prioritize locations and funding over multiple years to achieve full compliance.”

Based on a consultant study done in 2019, the document breaks down the task into categories, noting that these estimated “minimum costs” do not include traffic control, engineering or construction management:

• $98.8 million for 37,317 non-compliant curb ramps and median treatments.

• $447 million for 2,982 miles of non-compliant sidewalks.

• $110 million for 30,795 non compliant driveway aprons.

• $1.1 million for 1,314 non-compliant crosswalks and 111 non-compliant pedestrian signals.

Only about 1.3% of the 37,806 surveyed curb ramps were determined to currently comply with the ADA.

Bleak Picture

Asked to comment on the draft, including the cost estimates, a lawyer with one of the organizations that brought the complaint said they are doing their own assessments of the costs of compliance.

“Ultimately, it’s the city’s problem, the city’s going to have to figure it out,” said Cory Warren, of Disability Rights Maryland, local counsel for the lawsuit filed on behalf of the IMAGE Center of Maryland and three named plaintiffs.

Others involved in preparation of the suit include New York-based Disability Rights Advocates, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho.

“They’ve had 30 years, and they’ve just let it all deteriorate,” Warren said. “This is in the end their responsibility.”

Baltimore “had 30 years, and they’ve just let it all deteriorate. This is in the end their responsibility”  – Cory Warren, Disability Rights Maryland.

The data in the 2019 study, referenced in the lawsuit, paints a bleak description of the scope of the problem.

In addition to only 1.3% of the surveyed curb ramps being determined to comply with the ADA, some 2,982 miles (66%) of the 4,500 miles of inventoried Baltimore sidewalks did not meet the standard.

Of the 36,661 driveway aprons inventoried, 30,795 (84%) were not compliant.

The cost to repair or upgrade a curb ramp averages $2,500, according to the report, while the cost per sidewalk mile is $150,000.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Baltimore to comply with the law, set up a timetable for repairs to be made and to monitor the city’s progress.

In the draft DOT has submitted for public review, the following timetable is provided.

Compliance timetable in Baltimore's

Compliance timetable listed in Baltimore’s ADA Compliance Project Assessment. (baltimorecity.gov)

In its conclusion section, the report says the following:

“Much of the pedestrian infrastructure within the City of Baltimore has exceeded its intended lifespan and is due for replacement regardless of ADA compliance.

“The cost to replace the infrastructure and to achieve compliance is significant and needs to be planned over a long duration scheduled according to available funding.”

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