Sidewalks to be installed in Billings creates controversy

Sidewalks are added every year within the Billings city limits. The city of Billings is getting more proactive this year by focusing on areas with school routes and high pedestrian activity. Some homeowners who have received notices regarding sidewalk installment being done in front of their homes are not too happy about this.

There are five areas the public works engineering division is focusing on this year. That is Barret Road near Medicine Crow Middle School, Murphy Avenue near Newman School, 21st Street West near Rosepark School, 54th Street West near Ben Steele Middle School, and Southgate Drive due to customer complaints.

Debi Meling is the city engineer and said this program to add sidewalks within the city has been in place since 1997 from a resolution. Sidewalks have been added every year since then. In 2018, this resolution was updated.

"That resolution actually defines how this program takes place, where we try to add sidewalks," Meling said. "We try to focus on arterials, collectors, school routes. Anywhere we see high pedestrian activity and then those are the areas that we recommend to council each year."

I took to one of the areas that was recommended to install sidewalks for that area. I went door to door to ask homeowners how they feel about the city notifying each of them about a sidewalk due to be installed within the next year.

One homeowner said she understands why a sidewalk is needed. After all, there is a park just a few feet away. But, she also said she has landscape in her front lawn that will have to be destroyed, which she said was pretty costly to build.

Another homeowner said he was pretty upset at first. After talking to someone, he learned that he wasn't going to have to pay for sidewalk installation because his address is different than the homeowners on 54th Street West. The same goes for another homeowner who lives on a corner. Her address is not the same of those who live on 54th Street West.

That's right. The city will be billing homeowners who live on the streets where sidewalks will be installed.

"Anytime there's a piece of land where it didn't come through the cite development process for the city, it usually won't have a sidewalk and that is when this program kicks in and we start finding those missing pieces," Meling explained. "So the reason its property owners are assessed is because in every other instance, property owners, when they're constructing, actually pay for that sidewalk."

Other homeowners on 54th Street West are not concerned about the finances. Rather, they are more concerned the sidewalks will be eating up some of their property. Meling said in this year's projects, there's nowhere the city needs to acquire right-of-way. Meaning, they won't ask the owners to give up some of their property for compensation.

"There's usually plenty of right-of-way to fit the sidewalk in on the property that is owned by the city," Meling said. "A lot of people don't realize that that's actually not property, but most of the time, if you drive along most streets, private property usually starts about one foot behind sidewalk."

Meling says it's important to put safety first.

"Our whole goal with sidewalks and paths are to improve the safety for multi-motal transportation."

Meling said if the homeowner is financially struggling, they can pay off the sidewalk installment in payments by assessing the cost within a span of 12 years. She also said if you want to create the sidewalk yourself or find a private contractor to do it, just speak with the Public Works Engineering Division.

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