by ZACH KAYSER
Winona has managed to salvage $900,000 in grant funding to install more than 100 handicap accessible sidewalk ramps on Broadway, city officials said this week.
Earlier this year, it looked as though that money would be lost, since the City Council voted down the Broadway road diet project to which the sidewalk ramp funding was attached. Several debates at council meetings culminated in a Feb. 1 vote that split 4-3 between opponents and supporters of the project, which would have re-striped the roadway, converting it from four lanes to three, in addition to fixing the curbs to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
As part of her argument in favor of the road diet, City Council member Eileen Moeller said the disabled residents of Winona could not wait for the city to fix the curbs. “It’s a real luxury to say ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal to me’ but there are people for whom this is very difficult to navigate,” she said. “I have cared for people like that, and I have helped push them through the snow on our city curbs in the middle of winter, and it is very unsafe for them.”
At a meeting Monday, City Manager Steve Sarvi told the council that Public Works Director Brian DeFrang had actually managed to convince the granting organization to allow the city to use the grant on updating curb ramps alone, instead of the full road diet project..
Interviewed Thursday, Defrang said the pedestrian ramps on Broadway from Mankato Avenue to Sioux Street would all be replaced, except for the ones that are already ADA compliant. He said he managed to convince the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) District 6 that Winona should still get the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding handed down to the state from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). DeFrang’s foray into a sea of government acronyms yielded the $900,000 that was originally secured for the Broadway road diet, and thus provided funding for the curb project that is planned to be constructed this summer. DeFrang made a point of thanking MnDOT for letting the city keep the money. “This takes $1 million or so of ramps off our ‘need-to-do list,’” he said. “This is huge, both fiscally and obviously for the partially handicapped or handicapped pedestrian that can use these ramps the way [they’re] supposed to be used.”
Defrang explained that the city originally had $1.9 million in grant money, and only the $900,000 chunk was recovered. The balance, $1 million in a direct grant from the FHWA, was lost when the council voted the project down.
Making the pedestrian ramps ADA compliant involves two things: smoothing the gradient so wheelchair users don’t have to overcome a steep plateau, and installing metal bumps that help alert the visually impaired that they are about to cross a street.
Moeller said Friday that Broadway pedestrians with mobility limitations will have an easier time using the road, although the road diet would have made it safer, too. “It will certainly make getting onto the sidewalks easier from the crosswalks,” she said. “Unfortunately, without the road diet, the speed of the cars and the width of the road is still pretty unsafe.”
Also contacted Friday, City Council member and road diet opponent Steve Young hailed the curb project, but reiterated his belief that the broader road diet was unsupported by Winonans.