Word that the state Transportation Department will spend $12.5 million over four years on projects to improve accessibility on state roads and bridges was hailed as a step in the right direction by advocates for those with disabilities.
But there’s still much more to be done, said Chris Bell, an advocate for the blind who had earlier filed a complaint with federal officials, claiming the state was not using enough stimulus money to resolve problems that have been accumulating for decades.
The new state plan calls for using $2 million in stimulus money for projects to improve accessibility in the transportation system.
Those projects will include:
• Pedestrian ramp improvements
• Sidewalk rehabilitation and connections
• Accessible pedestrian signals
In addition, the state will spend $2.5 million a year for the next four years on accessibility improvements.
“We’re happy with the progress, so far,” said Margot Imdieke Cross of the Minnesota State Council on Disability. (I first became aware of this issue while doing reporting work for MSCOD at the Capitol during the legislative session.)
But Bell, of the American Council of the Blind, Minnesota, said it’s not enough.
“That’s a drop in the bucket; it will hardly make a dent,” Bell said Tuesday. He has no plans to drop his federal complaint on the matter, which is being investigated by the Federal Highway Administration.
“It’s moving in the right direction, but for years they’ve failed to follow the law that requires these accessibility improvements,” Bell said.
As plans for the improvements go forward, MSCOD is pushing hard to keep the state from building diagonal curb cuts on roads. The curb cuts make it possible for wheelchairs, blind pedestrians and others with mobility issues to enter cross walks. But rather than build two curb cuts facing the two cross walks at a corner, the state often builds one to save money, but it propels wheelchairs and walkers diagonally out into the traffic rather than directly into the crosswalk.
Cross said she’s urging state officials to never build diagonal crosswalks.
“Whenever I go to a meeting at the Met Council, at 6th and Robert [in downtown St. Paul], there’s a diagonal curb cut and I go right out into the traffic,” she said.