Curbs and Gutters.
Over the weekend, I walked several of the neighborhoods surrounding our downtown corridor. I had a wonderful time, and met some really fantastic people, but one thing that came up over and over again was “When are we going to get curbs and guttering?”
I couldn’t agree more.
In the six years I’ve represented ward three, this has been an issue that has risen to council conversation multiple times, typically during budget hearings, but unfortunately has not received the attention it deserves – and those residents deserve.
In 2014, as a part of the Parks, Pipes, and Pavement sales tax vote (which passed by a healthy margin), the council, at the strong request of former Councilmember Sawyer, approved allocating one-third of the pavement revenue specifically towards the creation of a Street Improvement Plan, which would be put together with resident input and aimed at bringing these roads up to current standards. While the bulk of this work doesn't fall in my ward, I supported this effort because I believed it was important to the city as a whole.
Now in its fifth year, this revenue stream is predicted to bring in only about $9.7 million over the ten-year term…a good start, but a small drop in the bucket when considering the estimated citywide cost of $154 million to fully curb and gutter all of our city streets.
If you’ve never walked these areas, I highly encourage you to do so. With narrow streets often buffered by deep ditches, it is a place that as one resident told me yesterday, “You’d be crazy to ride a bike on”. That isn’t the Shawnee we should want for anyone. And these neighborhoods exist throughout our city.
Going back into our history, in the early nineties, there was an effort to fully fund these projects through a ballot issue. That vote failed, in some places by as much as 3 to 1, and with that, the effort to put together a long-term solution for this issue appears to have halted as well.
I know it’s a lot of money. I know it’s hard. But we shouldn’t take on issues because they are easy; we should take them on because it’s the right thing to do.
Infrastructure is one of the most central responsibilities of local government, and that includes having streets that are safe for pedestrians. And beyond being a core service, if we want to get serious about attracting new residents and businesses, neighborhood streets that match what you’d see in most other Johnson County communities is an important step.
I will openly admit that I didn't always realize what an issue it was, particularly in the eastern areas of our city. Representing the western side, I believe it is my job to fight for their priorities, and this has frankly not been an issue that comes up a lot (though we certainly do have some neighborhoods in need). However, as the mayor is the only at-large elected official, it is their job to take a broader look at Shawnee as a whole and address those needs accordingly.
In fourteen years in elected office, often representing these parts of the city most in need, my opponent has not made curbs and guttering a priority or worked to put together a comprehensive solution. And as she stated in last week’s council meeting, “She’s been walking those streets since she was a child”. It is time that we provide more than lip service to this problem. We must act.
What does that look like? Perhaps it is a portion of new revenue from growth or increased appraisals. Perhaps it means delaying some less-pressing projects to allocate more towards this effort from our general budget. Or perhaps it’s another conversation as we near the end of this Parks/Pipes/Pavement extension. While the silver bullet isn’t entirely known, what is clear is that it is time we stop kicking the can down the road. This is yet another example of how a delayed and non-existent long-term plan for who we want to be as a city has hurt us all.
Even if this solution takes a decade or more to implement, we should start these conversations today – and it should involve the residents in these very neighbors and beyond. We owe them that.