After years of neglect and hit-or-miss repairs, San Diego's long-deteriorating sidewalks are getting a major, comprehensive check.
All 5,000 miles of them -- step by old-fashioned step.
The city has hired two dozen interns -- civil engineering students from UC San Diego and San Diego State University -- to walk those mean sidewalks with GPS devices.
They'll eyeball the conditions, and document problems that would seem to warrant priority attention.
"They can upload their information electronically,” explains City Councilman Mark Kersey. “And it's got a number of tags that they can assign to the issues they're seeing – whether it's a sidewalk that's been uplifted by a tree root, or just a big crack, whatever the situation might be."
The student-interns joined Kersey and Interim Mayor Todd Gloria at a Friday-morning media briefing in South Park, providing an early photo opportunity and unveiling of the year-long, unprecedented assessment program.
With a bottom-line investment of $1 million, officials believe the undertaking will be more cost-effective than the timeworn practice of responding to citizens' complaints.
The information gathered by the interns will go into a specialized database to be validated, risk-assessed, and checked for progress in the repair cycles.
“It's going to take a lot of walking, and they'll go through multiple pairs of shoes, I think,” said Kersey, who chairs the City Council Infrastructure Committee. “But it's really the best way to do it.”
And it may help minimize injury payouts from the city treasury, if the assessments result in prompt fixes that head off the prospect of people tripping and falling on compromised sidewalks and curbs.
"We have more work to do on our libraries, our firehouses and our water and sewer pipes, but from where I sit, this is the biggest issue facing the city,” said Gloria. “We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we can't get out of it overnight, either … but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't start taking steps forward.”
One of those steps, posted on a docket for City Council approval next week, is a $43 million infrastructure bond issue.
Annual city spending on sidewalk repairs approached $10 million a few years ago, when nearly 4,000 sidewalk stretches were found to be damaged by tree roots.