The Oklahoma City Council has finally approved a master plan for MAPS 3 sidewalks, but it is holding off for now on a binding commitment to fund as many miles of sidewalks as originally promised.
The master plan approved unanimously Tuesday prioritizes locations for sidewalks based on a weighted scale to measure need. It was modified slightly from a plan the council sent back to the MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board late this summer. The only notable changes were an adjustment in the estimated cost of sidewalk construction, and a tweak to how one stretch of sidewalk was scored.
City officials estimate the $9 million MAPS 3 sidewalk budget can provide at least 26 to 37 miles of sidewalks, depending on the final bids from prospective contractors. The city told residents before the MAPS 3 vote they planned to build 70 miles of the sidewalks, but city officials have conceded that was based on poor cost estimates.
Council members expressed strong support for acting on the recommendation of the advisory board's trails and sidewalks subcommittee to find more money somewhere to build the full 70 miles. But the council will wait before deciding how.
“That's a concrete, literally concrete, promise that we made to do 70 miles,” Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said. “I think turning our back on that is a mistake, a gross mistake.”
The subcommittee's weighted scoring system gave priority to sidewalk locations based in part on their proximity to schools, hospitals, libraries and transit connections, along with danger to pedestrians and population density.
The result was an uneven distribution through the city's eight wards, and a concentration of sidewalks in the most populated areas. The lone major adjustment addressed the particularly low number of sidewalks included in Ward 7 in northeast Oklahoma City.
A section of NE 63 between Broadway and Martin Luther King was re-evaluated as a single piece as opposed to two pieces, which means it's now among the 26 miles of projects the city expects to complete no matter what.
“The key was the connectivity. If you grab those two miles and link them together, it really boosted its rating,” Oklahoma City MAPS program director David Todd said.
The planning document will allow city authorities to start at the top of the list and move down until the money runs out, and potentially continue with new funding sources.
Money from the city's general fund or MAPS 3 contingency accounts are options. But Mayor Mick Cornett said it may not be wise to dip into contingency funds only three years into the MAPS 3 tax collection.
“I don't think we need to start spending contingency money today to fulfill it,” Cornett said. “But a year from now? Five years from now?”
White, who was the first Tuesday to float the idea of using MAPS 3 contingency funds, agreed with Cornett, but previously insisted the council not ignore the sidewalks, though it is one of the least visible projects.
“If ... we were only going to build 40 percent of the convention center, we'd have the whole MAPS advisory committee coming in here telling us to raid the contingency fund to build the convention center,” White said.
Councilman Ed Shadid echoed the idea, later noting there have been indications the city can't afford to build a convention center as big as studies recommended for the economic boost Oklahoma City is seeking.
Todd and City Manager Jim Couch have been careful to point out the MAPS 3 sidewalk budget is only a portion of what the city is spending to catch up on sidewalks. The city is far behind the number of sidewalks civic leaders want, and officials blame a 50-year period when sidewalks were ignored as a part of requirements for property development as the metro expanded.
New requirements for private developments, federally funded sidewalk projects and $68 million for sidewalks in the city's last general obligation bond issue also are helping to build more.
Council members said they expect to find a way to pay for the 70 miles promised as part of MAPS 3.
“Eventually, I'd like to think this council and future councils will finish that thing out,” Cornett said.