Where the sidewalks end
Parts of Springfield gets facelifts while other parts look like Dixie
The Bunn Park neighborhood, on Springfield’s southeast side, hasn’t changed much in 30 years: Many roads are unpaved, sidewalks don’t exist in some spots, and thick vegetation grows on empty parcels of land. One might think that this is all done in the name of preserving the historic charm of the community.
“I don’t see no ‘historic charm.’ All I see is dilapidated infrastructure,” says Jamie Adaire, president of the Bunn Park Neighborhood Association, who is upset about the continuing existence of gravel roads and broken sidewalks in his neighborhood while other parts of the city receive upgrades.
“We’re in Springfield, Ill., but parts of it look like Birmingham, Ala. Actually, Birmingham probably looks better than Springfield,” Adaire says.
Soon some major area streets will be improved. Last week, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama were in town to drop off $19 million from TEA-3, the federal government’s newest transportation bill. The cash will be spent to expand 11th Street and MacArthur Boulevard, make improvements to Cockrell Lane and Capitol Avenue, and build a multimodal transportation terminal. These federal funds cannot be used for local neighborhoods, says city spokesman Ernie Slottag.
Adaire and others like him feel that although “making Capitol Avenue look nice is a good thing,” the city often neglects neighborhoods such as theirs.
“They take our [property] tax dollars and don’t fix up our neighborhood,” Adaire says.
The city of Springfield will collect $13.6 million in property taxes in the coming fiscal year, $1 million more than the previous year.
The city’s Department of Public Works gets $2.5 million to spend on materials, contractual maintenance, sidewalks, and miscellaneous items. For major public-works projects, the city must rely heavily on money from the Illinois Department of Transportation, Uncle Sam, and Sangamon County, which is responsible for area highways.
According to the city’s Web site, the department of public works spent its funds allocated for 2004 on asphalt pavement overlays, sidewalk and ramp upgrades, oil-mat road-maintenance and pavement-crack-sealing programs, widening and resurfacing of Seventh Street, Koke Mill Road construction, and repairs to Chatham Road. The city also worked on a number of projects jointly with IDOT.
Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz chairs the City Council’s public-works committee and believes that the condition of city streets is unlikely to improve until a mayor or public-works director decides to put a plan into place to pave streets and fix sidewalks one at a time.
Mike Norris, director of public works, says the city does have a plan — to do the best they can with the limited funds available to his department. According to Norris, the city simply doesn’t have a lot of money right now for sidewalks and paving streets. In fact, he says, the city hasn’t done an overlay anywhere in two years.
But a commitment from officials is all Bunn Park’s Adaire wants.
“Put us on a list,” Adaire says. “I don’t care if it’s a Top 10 list or a Top 100 list — I want to be on a list somewhere.”
He says he’s waiting on a report promised to neighborhood associations by Mayor Tim Davlin outlining his plan to address their concerns, ranging from potholes to prostitution.
If the mayor’s report is unsatisfactory, he says, he will consider addressing the City Council or will go for the “nuclear option” — a lawsuit claiming that sidewalks in his community are not navigable and therefore violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the end, Adaire says, improving neighborhoods is a win-win situation for residents, as well as for the city.
“Give us some of our damn money back,” he says. “Show us a return on our investment. The city needs to realize that if you put in a curb, fix up the sidewalks, our property value will go up; then we’ll be paying more in taxes. I don’t mind paying higher taxes for property that looks like it’s worth a damn.”