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Complying with disabilities act will take Cedar Rapids longer

Gazette - 11/25/2018

Nov. 24--CEDAR RAPIDS -- Compliance with the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act is proving to be a lesson in patience and precision for city officials, construction contractors, project designers and others.

The single biggest line item in a four-year settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to make city of Cedar Rapids public facilities accessible for all has been installing or replacing 3,800 curb ramps to meet federal standards. Minor deviations from the specifications can torpedo a project.

For example, the slope of pavement could be compliant. But the bumps or "truncated domes" installed to help the visually impaired detect the edge of the street could be off -- and thus the whole thing has to be redone.

"They have to rip them out, redo the construction and put them back," said Brenna Fall, the city's capital improvement project engineering program manager. "There's no construction flexibility."

Cedar Rapids is beginning the fourth year of Project Civic Access, a settlement with the Department of Justice intended to eliminate physical and communication barriers in city infrastructure, facilities and programs to comply with Title II of the ADA, which applies to state and local governments. Des Moines, Davenport, and Pella have gone through the settlement process, as have dozens of cities nationally.

The settlement agreement, which was signed Sept. 1, 2015, required completing the work within four years. The effort is proving more time consuming than expected, prompting the city to seek an extension for the completion of all of the facilities and curb ramps at least two additional years, said Sandi Fowler, deputy city manager.

"I think we will get an extension of the settlement agreement because we are making such major progress," Fowler said. "We are demonstrating a sense of urgency in completing this."

The budget for complying also is expected to double from the initial forecast of $15 million to a $30 million total, she said. The city is selling $8 million a year in bonds earmarked for the work.

"DOJ is monitoring compliance by Cedar Rapids with the 2015 PCA agreement and the agreement expires in September 2019," according to a Justice Department statement. "We are working with Cedar Rapids to ensure that its programs, services, and activities comply with Title II of the ADA."

In the case of curb ramps, the strictness standard was unfamiliar and early projects had a 65 percent success rate. Contractors and inspectors went through training and the success rate has risen to 90 percent, Fowler and Fall said.

After stops and starts in the first two years, 970 were completed in 2018, bringing the total completed to 1,950. But there are 1,850 still to go.

The settlement agreement addresses only ramps built in 1992 or later, so some of the least accessible aren't even being tackled now unless they are associated with other street work or another project.

An independent licensed architect must inspect and certify work in order for the project to be considered complete. Coordinating the timing of inspections and getting reports back has taken effort to become efficient, Fall said.

Among overall bench marks achieved so far: 24 parks and recreation sites have been made compliant including Ushers Ferry, Old MacDonald's Farm and Tait Cummins Sports Complex, as have the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, interior of City Hall, skywalks and Veterans Memorial Stadium. Training has been provided for 1,000 city employees.

Work ahead in 2019 includes the U.S. Cellular Center, Paramount Theatre, exterior of City Hall, the Water Administration building and more parks and curb ramps.

--Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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(c)2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

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