Before the $3.5 million initiative to fix the city’s sidewalk issues, public works officials said the department did not have enough money to keep up with all of the repairs.
“Everything before the current $3.5 million effort was a drop in the bucket—even when we attempted to increase the budget for a one-time expense in [fiscal year 20]20-21 with a $370,000 funding push, it still fell short of addressing our backlog,” Public Works Director Alonzo Liñán said. “It wasn't until this $3.5 million allocation was approved that the city was in a position to make a real difference.”
According to the city’s Facebook page, city staff completed two projects in 2021 aimed specifically at evaluating the city’s sidewalks. One was a sidewalk inventory—evaluating where sidewalks exist and do not exist—and the Sidewalk Scouts program, in which volunteers identified maintenance concerns along 260 miles of existing infrastructure. Combined with sidewalk damage reported individually by members of the public, the city soon had a solid foundation of data for tackling maintenance and connectivity going forward. As a result of these two projects, nearly 3,000 separate sidewalk issues were identified.
“Our sidewalk maintenance projects are focused on public safety issues—areas where the concrete has shifted or broken significantly enough that it could create a trip hazard,” Liñán said. “Repair approaches in this project included complete removal/replacement of sidewalk panels to less invasive measures, like lifting and saw-cutting of more minor trip hazards.”
In 2021, council provided direction to staff to invest heavily in infrastructure in the year ahead with money taken from general fund reserves, which resulted in $3.5 million being invested in sidewalk funding.
The investment grew in part because city leaders listened to their constituents, Keller Mayor Armin Mizani said.
“Improving and maintaining infrastructure is among government's core functions," he said. "I am proud of the historic investments we made as a community in our sidewalk repairs—which will clear what was previously a six-year backlog with thousands of work orders. Looking to the years ahead, we will continue to place a heavy emphasis on ensuring both our streets and sidewalks are in sound and proper shape."
According to the city’s Facebook page, because the funding came from reserves that were built up over time, the significant outlay was accomplished even as homeowners saw the single-largest tax relief measure in Keller history during fiscal year 2021-22. Liñán said, in that same budget, an annual sidewalk repair program was established at $275,000 per year to avoid creating another such backlog in the future.
“The current sidewalk program will allow the city to keep up with the number of repair requests we would anticipate in any given year,” Liñán said. “However, the city is developing a more robust sidewalk inventory organized by age so that we can move toward a more preventative/proactive program, relying less on complaints coming in and hopefully addressing issues before they become more significant.”
While Keller has funding set aside and better data in place to ensure the investment in sidewalks is properly maintained, the lifespan of infrastructure, such as sidewalks, depends on many factors. Liñán said weather conditions, soil conditions, proximity to trees with aggressive root systems, how much wear and tear it gets from everyday use, and incidents like a piece of heavy equipment rolling over it are just a few of the factors that can vary a sidewalk’s lifespan. He also said the public works department was fortunate council realized the importance of preventative measures to improve the effectiveness of a city’s infrastructure.
“Deferred maintenance is the bane of every municipal operation,” Liñán said. “Giving in to the annual temptation of not maintaining basic city assets to focus on flashier projects that are more popular at the moment is both easy and attractive, but over the years, this can become an insurmountable hurdle. Keller was in the fortunate position to address the sidewalk maintenance needs before they grew to that level; many cities faced with these kinds of deferred maintenance needs will never catch up without measures like large bond packages or raised taxes. Credit goes to the city leaders for taking such bold and definitive action.”