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Official says Richmond to outsource some sidewalk repairs

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Richmond Times-Dispatch : Official says Richmond to outsource some sidewalk repairs

A little more than two months after a city audit found major faults in Richmond’s sidewalk program, the city’s director of public works says his office is putting together a plan to outsource some repairs to save money and get more work done.

James Jackson, facing pointed and critical questioning from members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday night, said the city is working on a request for proposals for sidewalk repairs, a move he said will help address what has been estimated as a $14 million backlog of work on the 832 miles of sidewalks the city is responsible for maintaining.

With about $1.3 million in state and city funding approved in the current budget and a backlog of hundreds of complaints, Jackson’s crews had planned to tackle a grand total of 31 sidewalk projects this year.

“We believe they can hit a large number of those projects and reduce our backlog significantly,” Jackson said of the contractor.

He added that the city had attempted to add itself to an existing contract between Precision Safe Sidewalks Inc. and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, but discovered it would have to open the work up to a bid process.

Jackson said Precision was able to cut the housing authority’s per-unit cost by about 80 percent on repairs in Fairfield and Gilpin courts and hit 432 spots in three days. The company’s patented process involves fixing uneven sidewalks without demolishing them or pouring new concrete, said Aaron Hester, a company vice president.

Hester said Precision, which has an office in Mechanicsville, has thousands of municipal customers and fixes hundreds of thousands of trip hazards a year in the United States and Canada.

Hester estimated the company can fix Richmond’s sidewalks for about half of what the city spends.

“We have been in discussions with them. We’re working on a process with them. They are evaluating our service,” Hester said.

However, Jackson said uneven sidewalks caused by trees, which require removing the concrete and grinding down roots, will still have to be handled by city crews. An assessment of all the city’s sidewalks that Precision has offered to perform “as a courtesy” will give the department a better handle on the scope of Richmond’s problem, he added.

“There are going to be some locations that we will have to deal with because of the nature or the extent of the sidewalk damage,” Jackson said. “We’re hopeful that the majority of the issues that we have in the city that are a public safety issue can be addressed by them.”

The need for an overall inventory of city sidewalks and their conditions was among many findings in the audit, which also noted that there were discrepancies between what workers claimed they did versus what they actually accomplished, lapses in accounting for materials and an overall lack of prioritization, planning and oversight.

Jackson, who became the city’s director of public works in 2011, couldn’t say when the last citywide assessment was completed, though he noted that better training and use of an existing software system are already addressing many concerns raised in the audit.

Councilwoman Cynthia I. Newbille of the 7th District said she was glad the Department of Public Works had a plan but wanted more immediate action to address what she said in some cases amounts to a public safety hazard.

“This has reached an emergency level,” Newbille said. “What can we do to be even more responsive?”

Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell of the 8th District, who chairs the committee, complained of a failure to respond to residential complaints about streets, sidewalks, trash and high grass, telling Jackson her South Richmond district looked “horrible.”

“I’m getting fussed at, I’m getting cussed at,” Trammell said.

Jackson told the council members that safety is a major factor in prioritizing sidewalk complaints and workers move “with all haste” to address issues.

“When we identify them as a public safety risk, they go to the top of the list,” he said. Jackson said he hoped to get a plan to the city’s Procurement Services Department within the next 10 working days. He could not provide a cost estimate for the proposal.

“We’ll have a better idea of what it’s going to cost us after we get our assessment,” he said.


(804) 649-6911

Twitter: @RTDZullo


Written by vaphc

July 16, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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