John Shilts points out damage to his driveway on Pearl Street Northeast on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

John Shilts has taken to using his Pearl Street driveway as a patio for the last two years, because when he tries to pull in his Mitsubishi, it scrapes against the concrete.

That’s because the sidewalk has buckled about four inches in some places as the roots of two maple trees in front of house continue to grow.

He’s tried to fix it himself, patching a section of the driveway with cement, but that only lasted a year until the roots began lifting another section. Shilts said he can’t do anything about the trees because they’re the responsibility of the city.

Shilts just retired and knows he doesn’t want to stay in the two-story home but doesn’t think he’d be able to sell a house where the owner couldn’t use the driveway.

Then there’s the safety hazard.

One evening he and his wife went out for takeout. When they arrived home, he tripped and fell to his knees on the sidewalk in front of his house after encountering a four-inch drop. Soup went flying.

Shilts is one of many residents in the Northeast Neighborhood who are upset about buckling sidewalks.

It’s a topic that comes up at each neighborhood association meeting and the neighbors created an online gallery of what it considers the worst sidewalks titled: “NorthEast Neighbors Sidewalk Rogue’s Gallery.”

“For the last 20 or so years we have been trying to get the city to repair what I think are some of the worst sidewalks in town,” said Alan Scott, vice chair of the neighborhood association.

Scott said he has a granddaughter with cerebral palsy and he can’t take her on walks in the neighborhood without going into the street because the sidewalks are raised five inches in some places.

Sidewalk damage on Pearl Street Northeast on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The northeast neighborhood is roughly bordered by State Street to the south, the state fairgrounds to the north, the Union Pacific railroad and Parrish Middle School to the west and 24th Avenue Northeast to the east, according to the association website.

Much of the neighborhood is historic, with sidewalks that were built more than 70 years ago, according to Scott.

When asked what’s keeping the sidewalks in that neighborhood from being repaired, Brandon Klukis, who does concrete maintenance for the city, said there are a variety of factors impacting the progress of sidewalk repair.

The main one is funding.

“Our current funding level for the pedestrian network does not reflect the amount of maintenance that network requires, and it never has. We have made enormous strides over the last 13 years in investing and developing the sidewalk programs, but there is a tremendous backlog of deferred maintenance that will take many years to work through,” Klukis said in an email.

According to city code, Salem is responsible for repairing sidewalks constructed before 1992. Property owners are responsible for newer sidewalks.

City councilor Virginia Stapleton, who represents the Northeast neighborhood, downtown and portions of west Salem, said she got into politics because of dangerous sidewalks.

“At first I felt silly, but then I’m like ‘No, this is a real thing that’s impacting people’s lives.’ And that’s what the city is here for. When they can’t deliver on that for years, it becomes a thorn in the side of residents,” Stapleton said.

She said she’s been reviewing ways the city can raise revenue for sidewalks, while also acknowledging one of her main focuses on council is alleviating the persistent homelessness problem.

Stapleton said she wants the city to create an online portal for residents to flag problem sidewalks, similar to a portal the city created for street crossings.

“It will calm down people who are really angry about not being heard, because they will have proof they’re being heard,” she said.

Stapleton said it will also create a database to show the city and residents where troubled areas lie.

In 2011, the city completed a sidewalk inventory and condition assessment program that identified 138,000 needed repairs or replacements to sidewalks in the city.

The city later prioritized bringing sidewalks up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards when undertaking major street improvements like resurfacing. Those standards require sidewalks to have curb ramps and sidewalk repairs on critical routes, to make them accessible to wheelchair users.

“The city resumed limited efforts rehabilitating neighborhood sidewalks in 2012 after making significant progress in addressing priority ADA deficiencies,” a 2018 staff report on the sidewalk program reads.

From Dec. 2007 to 2017, the Sidewalk Rehabilitation Program spent $6.75 million on sidewalk repairs. The staff report puts the average cost of repairs at $12 per square foot.

Klukis said the Sidewalk Rehabilitation Program focuses on ADA routes near arterial streets, transit routes and near government buildings and social service agencies identified in the Salem Transportation Plan, while the response team does complaint-driven work in the 18 neighborhood associations.

The Sidewalk Response Team focuses on citizen complaints to “remediate the worst customer complaint areas within each neighborhood association,” Klukis wrote.

Criteria for those repairs are based off public use and identifiable barriers to mobility, Klukis said.

Barriers to mobility would include offset panels, missing sections, extreme fracturing of the panels, and surface spalling to name a few,” he said.

Klukis said the city doesn’t quantify which neighborhoods have the worst sidewalks, but Scott is certain it’s the Northeast neighborhood. 

“Nobody seems to be able to tell us when things will get done,” Scott said.

That’s a sentiment echoed by Shilts, who said he’s spoken to the city numerous times about his driveway plight, and while city workers have been courteous, he hasn’t been able to get a time frame for repairs.

“I’ve lost confidence actually. This has been going on for years,” he said. 

Sidewalk damage on Pearl Street Northeast on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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