City focuses on sidewalks as frustration with Union Pacific grows

As the city of Bismarck continues to place a strong emphasis on improving its sidewalks, the mayor says he’s ready to do battle with Union Pacific over a small portion of land needed to make travel safer for the elderly, children and people with physical disabilities.

During a meeting this month, the city’s planning and zoning commission submitted a request to the board of aldermen that a comprehensive plan for city sidewalks be made.

Alan Williams, planning and zoning commission secretary, noted in a request memo that “the city’s sidewalk infrastructure is in a serious state of disrepair. Much of the system presents serious challenges to residents as they attempt to navigate the city. Safety concerns are of utmost importance in considering future upgrades to the system.”

Concerns mentioned in the memo included citizen safety, legal considerations, prioritization, funding considerations and promotional considerations. To help alleviate those concerns, the commission made the following recommendations: 1) Construction of future sidewalks should be undertaken with pedestrian safety considered; 2) The city attorney should be consulted prior to “plan” implementation; 3) An equitable and practical project selection process should be identified within the plan; 4) The “plan” shall identify funding alternatives for future sidewalk projects; and 5) Encourage public involvement. Utilize recent improvements to the system to promote the “plan” agenda.

After the board agreed to the idea of a long-term sidewalk plan, it was decided to hold a more detailed discussion with the planning and zoning commission next month.

“We’re going to meet with them at 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the depot about the comprehensive plan on the future of the sidewalks,” said Mayor Seth Radford. “We had a couple of phases that we started and we’re still trying to hash out the one that goes out to the senior apartments on Cedar Street.”

It’s the Cedar Street project that has turned out to be a four-year thorn in the mayor’s side.

“Now we’re dealing with the railroad and they do things at their own speed,” Radford said. “I will be reminding the railroad that they are subsidized by tax dollars, so maybe they should be helping us a little bit better.”

At issue is the city’s request for a 50-foot wide easement along Cedar Street to allow for the building of a sidewalk to allow pedestrian traffic to move safely on the west side of Route N from Shy’s Feed to the Village Gardens Senior Apartments. The problem is that the land is owned by Union Pacific and Radford believes they’re dragging their feet unnecessarily.

“We have the easement from Shy’s Feed,” he said. “They’ve been great to us, of course. We’ve talked with Village Gardens and they’re all on board with it — they’re all happy. We haven’t secured easements because we’re waiting on the railroad. The railroad has sent a letter requesting that we pay a minimum of $10,000 for this 50-foot strip of land across the swamp that we would actually develop and make nice. We would actually clean it up.

“So, we’re in debates with them. I shot an email up to them and it’s been about a month since I’ve heard from them. They’re dragging their feet and I think the railroad looks bad because all they’re doing is hindering getting our disabled people and our elderly access to town. Our goal is to funnel people to the already accessible sidewalks.

“That was the idea with Cedar Street down here like we just did. They now have access to get up to the highway, which is a lot of the businesses. They have access to the post office. They have access to the city buildings. So, we’re kind of funneling everything towards Highway 32 because it’s already ADA accessible.

“The reason we’re doing that is because we have a large senior population out there. I give a ‘hats off’ to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) because they’ve been working with us. They’re waiting on the railroad just like us. We’ve submitted all their engineering plans to the railroad. We’re just waiting for the railroad to come to a conclusion.

“Ameren is on board and have approved the placement of a street light on the land. The city has $30,000 sitting in the bank to do the project and MoDOT has their $70,000 in the bank too. Everything is in place. We just need Union Pacific to work things out with us about the easement so we can get this project completed.”

According to Radford, the eventual plan is to take the sidewalk down to the Tackle Box where there is a parking lot where pedestrians can safely cross the road.

“We would continue the sidewalk and connect it all as a goal,” he said. “Then that funnels kids to the school. It funnels them to the food and other businesses in town. It funnels them to the senior center and to the new L.I.F.E. Center. We’re not going to be able to do everyone’s sidewalk at once. We understand that.

The ultimate goal is that we get easy access for seniors or people who just want to take an evening walk, so they don’t have to walk out in the middle of the street or on a dilapidated sidewalk. We’re trying to get it where they can walk up and down safely and with good access up and down the highway area.”

Now that the initial sidewalk plans have been completed or are near completion, the time is for the city to begin looking to the future.

“We’re going to be looking at setting up phases for 10 or 15 years down the road,” Radford said. “That’s why we’re going to be meeting on Aug. 13.”

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

“The railroad has sent a letter requesting that we pay a minimum of $10,0000 for this 50-foot strip of land across the swamp that we would actually develop and make nice.” — Mayor Seth Radford

Published by daily journal online.com

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