Frederick County must take steps to improve sidewalk access for people with disabilities or risk losing federal highway funding.
The State Highway Administration and county administrators signed a directive Jan. 28, ordering the county to identify areas that do not comply with standards set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act and create a plan to rectify those deficiencies within 90 days of its evaluation or lose federal highway funding.
Frederick County has not updated its 1994 ADA self-evaluation or its plan to meet the act’s requirements, according to the SHA.
The county will need to evaluate the design of curb cuts and the angle, width and steepness of sidewalks. It will need to install the yellow textured mats, formally known as “detectable warning surfaces,” where required by law. Those surfaces help the visually impaired sense where the road begins.
The county must formalize the ADA compliance complaint intake process already in place and adopt a statement of nondiscrimination to provide the public with information about the ADA.
Some of the requirements outlined in the directive have been met. The county already has an ADA title II coordinator, Denise Rudegeair. She is the main contact for all of the county’s ADA complaints and works with staff to resolve Title II ADA complaints.
Frederick County uses a nondiscrimination statement as well, but staff will ask the Board of County Commissioners to adopt a specific nondiscrimination statement related to transportation.
Because the county receives funding through multiple channels, it was not clear Monday how much the county stood to lose if it did not take the actions outlined in the directive.
Division of Public Works Director Chuck Nipe said the county intends to comply so as to avoid losing any funding.
For some advocates for people with disabilities, working to meet ADA requirements is a long time coming.
“Frederick County has not been following federal and state regulations for years,” said John Gretz, of Urbana, who filed a complaint with the State Highway Administration.
The warning mats have been required since 1991, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Gretz met with county officials starting in November 2012 to advocate for disability access. He became interested in the issue, he said, because he has a rare neuromuscular disease.
“This is becoming one of my passions,” he said.
Gretz encouraged officials to retrofit sidewalks around the county with the mats.
The county’s Division of Public Works installed mats on 50 ramps in the Villages of Urbana in August 2013, according to county staff. The work was considered a pilot project and will be evaluated in the spring to help guide future projects.
Gretz voiced his concern in a phone interview that much work needs to be done in the development and around the county. He said that few intersections in the Villages of Urbana have the mats.
He also questioned why the county approved development plans without the appropriate aids for people with disabilities.
“There was confusion on the standards,” Nipe said. “They were just not included on the designs of the subdivision.”
He does not know how the confusion occurred, he said.
The county will not know the cost to bring county roads into compliance until its evaluation is complete.
Crews have been training to identify deficiencies, Nipe said, and will go out into the field when sidewalks are clear of snow.
Gretz is upset with the county for neglecting to meet ADA requirements during development, he said, and he cited the costs of retrofitting roads and sidewalks.
“Who is going to pay for those? Because they should be there.”
Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.