Only $2 million eyed

Department of Justice complaint outlines need for spending on accessibility

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) has filed a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint against the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and a number of other governmental agencies, alleging that Minnesota’s highways, roads, streets and sidewalks aren’t in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

MN-CCD is a broad-based coalition of organizations of people with disabilities, providers and advocates, dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. MN-CCD’s primary focus is public policy issues.

The DOJ complaint was filed last month against MnDOT, the Metropolitan Council and the council’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). It also includes all or part of the 182 cities and townships within the seven-county metropolitan area including Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as the counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington.

The state is receiving about $600 million for transportation and transit projects, with about half of that going to the seven-county metropolitan area.

The complaint alleges that the discrimination began in February of this year, with regard to discrimination on the basic of disability in the allocation of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) transportation funding. The complaint also cites Jan. 26, 1992 as the date that discrimination on the basics of disability in transportation facilities began.

A number of violations were outlined in the DOJ complaint and noted in a letter by Joan Willshire, executive director of the Minnesota State Council on Disability. The letter stated that MnDOT has lacked an existing ADA transition plan, which has been required by law since 1995. MnDOT has the opportunity to address and to correct longstanding ADA violations, Willshire wrote, but the $2 million set aside isn’t enough.

More funding is needed to make pedestrian bridges, sidewalks and curbs accessible. Disability advocates and organizations contend that violations have existed for decades. Interest in compliance has been heightened by the availability of federal economic stimulus funds for transportation and transit projects. ARRA funds sent to MnDOT for projects includes $2 million to correct ADA violations throughout the state, an amount MN-CCD and other disability community leaders describe as woefully inadequate. Some advocates have called for at least $30 million to address the violations.

MN-CCD notes that replacing one inaccessible pedestrian bridge is estimated to cost $1 to $3 million. Add in bridges in greater Minnesota and the cost of replacing the bridges can rise to more than $30 million.

In the Twin Cities area alone, there are at least eight bridges accessible only by staircases. Another problem cited by disability advocates is deteriorated sidewalks along part of Highway 5/West Seventh Street in St. Paul. Some of the sidewalks have been rebuilt up to Randolph Avenue, but sidewalk improvements are needed between Randolph and downtown St. Paul.

St. Paul also needs to spend $1.9 million to install more ADA-compliant signals and make other improvements, such as pedestrian push buttons, curb ramps and pedestrian signals at trunk highway intersections. Yet another issue is the need to replace pedestrian curb cuts throughout Hennepin County, at a cost of about $3 million. At least $44 million in needs have been identified in the metropolitan area alone.

But one challenge for any project seeking ARRA funds is that projects need to be “shovel-ready,” with completed plans in place. How many ADA-related projects would meet that definition is unknown.

In a recent update, MN-CCD leadership indicated that MnDOT has offered to discuss increasing the amount of funding put toward ADA-related projects. MnDOT officials have also indicated an interest in working with the disability community as the issues move forward.

Jane McClure is assistant editor of Access Press.

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