The first time that I ever parked in a handicap spot was about 16 years ago. It was on a trip to Wal Mart with my mother who was dying of cancer. You see she had an edema and fluid in her lungs so that, even with my help, she was out of breath before we even reached the front door. I was grateful that we could get the handicap parking spot right up front, and I was grateful that Wal Mart (not my favorite place to shop to be honest) had free mobility shopping carts.
So, I get it. I get it that the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) is important. I think that doing your best to make all public facilities accessible to people who have mobility or other limitations is important.
And, as a person who is involved with projects that include ADA improvements, I get just how difficult meeting these standards can be.
We all have seen older building, perhaps built in the 1920’s or earlier that the only way in is through stairs. Tight winding hallways and architecture that makes it virtually impossible for people with limited mobility to get around. Add to that tiny bathrooms where there is no space for wheelchairs and you can have a big costly mess of a headache if you want to even start on ADA improvements. The same can be seen in roadways with no sidewalks or places for people to cross the road.
What I am here today to tell you is that ADA is going to become more and more of an issue moving forward with our Local Programs projects. Right now it is already a big issue in the Transportation Alternatives (TA) project world. I can see the writing on the wall that it will become an issue in even the simplest and straight forward of Local Programs projects.
Using Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds for a resurfacing project within the existing Right of Way (ROW) is about the simplest, and cost effective project that a local government can move forward with. However, even with these projects you have to worry about making your curb cuts ADA compliant, and putting in ADA striping and signage.
If you are tying in your new ADA compliant curb cut into a non-ADA compliant sidewalk you can start getting into a gray area. Are you now responsible for bringing everything along your project route up to ADA standards? If not then which parts need to be brought up to ADA standards? If you complete a project several years previously up to what you thought was ADA standards, but those standards have now changed, are you responsible for now upgrading that project at your own expense? Are you going to have to acquire ROW to make these upgrades? As we all know acquiring ROW can blow the roof off the budget of any project.
There are those who will tell you (or scream at you) “I DON’T CARE WHAT IT COSTS! YOU HAD BETTER DO IT “RIGHT”!”
Yes, meeting ADA standards is the law. But these standards are also pretty far from being cut and dried on every single situation. And the big elephant in the room is cost. You can scream until you are blue in the face about justice, but the people I have seen and worked with on meeting ADA standards on projects are not trying to screw over the handicap or limit access to cut costs. They are like all of us, who have someone that they know or love who needs ADA access. They also have a very limited bucket of funds to get any project done.
You have been warned. From here on out, no matter how rural, no matter how simple the project a discussion about ADA issues had better happen on the front end. For the time being, this may not be an issue on a bridge replacement out in the rural countryside. But I would suggest you give it a look anyway. TDOT has been very clear that they are not in a forgiving mood when it comes to falling short on this issue.