Springfield Department of Public Works Traffic Engineer Tom Dancey (standing, right) gives a presentation to members of the Springfield City Council and staff members at the Transportation Management Center of the Ozarks Aug. 16, 2022. (Photo by Rance Burger)

By the end of 2023, the city of Springfield will have put about $4 million into sidewalk construction and improvements over a three-year period.

The Springfield City Council met Tuesday at the Transportation Management Center of the Ozarks for a 90-minute briefing on recent, current and future transportation projects. Sidewalk work, the way sidewalk projects are selected and executed, has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic altered the construction economy in Southwest Missouri.

Springfield Department of Public Works Principal Engineer Brett Foster told the city council about an estimated $2.6 million sidewalk improvement project package set to go out to bid in August 2022. As contractors jockey to land major road projects funded through federal COVID-19 recovery bills, cities are straining to bid out smaller but necessary projects. Foster said Springfield has taken to bundling several small projects together into larger bid packages.

“Since COVID, and even prior to COVID, as the economy got better, smaller contractors are hard to get to do work,” Foster said. “It’s been a struggle for Public Works, and so we adjusted a little bit in the last year.”

Some of the upcoming work will involve tearing out stretches of old sidewalks and replacing them with newer, wider and easier-to-use sidewalks. There will be other spots in Springfield where a sidewalk only goes down one side of the street, but walks will be added to the other side. And other arterial streets that don’t have any sidewalks at all may see some new sidewalk construction. Key areas are near Sunshine Street and U.S. Highway 65 and near Sunshine and Glenstone Avenue.

A map of eastern Springfield taken from a Department of Public Works bid document shows areas where sidewalk projects can be bundled into one bid package. (Illustration by Springfield Department of Public Works)

Success in bundling bids

The Springfield Department of Public Works found some success with a $1 million sidewalk project list funded through the city’s ¼-cent transportation sales tax. A 20-item sheet for a set of bids opened April 29, 2021, shows a mix of sidewalk removal and replacement projects with four bidders. Springfield-based Hunter Chase and Associates came in with the low bid of $1,086,635.

The tax’s official construction forecast has $4.2 million worth of pedestrian safety improvement work planned from the end of 2019 to the end of 2024.

“We mapped and prioritized our disconnected sidewalk sections,” Foster said. “We looked at, ‘Are they close to schools? Bus stops? Where are we getting the concerns? Where are the neighborhoods at?’ and we tried to look at where those priority areas were.”

A table found in the 2022 draft of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan shows sidewalk coverage in Springfield quantified by which entities are in charge of road maintenance. (Source: Forward SGF, written by Houseal Lavigne Associates)

Foster told the City Council it was important to bundle relatively simple pedestrian projects into the group, and to keep more complicated projects by themselves.

“We looked at larger groupings of shovel-ready sidewalks,” Foster said. “Some sidewalks, you have to move bridges or you need a lot of right of way; they’re just not really practical for us to move quickly and get a lot of work done.”

Sidewalks woven into a grander plan

Forward SGF is Springfield’s comprehensive plan for growth over the next two decades. One of the 15 chapters in the latest draft of Forward SGF is devoted to transportation, and pedestrian routes are mentioned throughout the chapter.

“Key planning principles for transportation include balancing the needs of all users of the system, increasing use of modes that help reduce congestion such as transit; walking; and bicycling, improving roadway efficiency and capacity, and creating better access management throughout the city,” the transportation chapter introduction reads.

Consultants from Chicago-based Houseal Lavigne Associates wrote the draft of Forward SGF after gathering more than 10,000 pieces of input from Springfield residents and stakeholders. A key part of Springfield’s growth centers on the development of more “complete neighborhoods,” where residents can live, work and enjoy recreation close to home.

“The most livable cities provide the ability to reach most of these destinations within a 15-minute walk or bike ride and others within a 30-minute trip by car or transit,” part of the transportation chapter reads. “Multimodal connections between neighborhoods, including trails, sidewalks, and streets are essential.”

Understanding the contractors’ climate

A map of Springfield in the transportation chapter of the Forward SGF master plan shows streets where sidewalks are present on one or both sides of the street. (Source: 2022 draft of the Forward SGF comprehensive plan)

In addition to bundling projects before letting them out to bid, Foster said the Springfield Department of Public Works is being more conscious of the challenges contractors and subcontractors face when they take on municipal projects.

“We made larger contracts, we also added a lot more scheduling flexibility in those contractors for contractors to come in and work on those, but still complete sections of work,” Foster said. “We’ll have new and some rehab sidewalk to help our ADA transition plan — so even grouping more work to finish some neighborhood sections and really provide that connectivity.”

This fall, the Department of Public Works is scheduled to start work on a three-month project to make select sidewalks and crosswalks in Springfield compliant with the pedestrian safety requirements found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The work will be funded through Springfield’s ¼-cent transportation sales tax and with a federal surface transportation block grant.

Forward SGF lists several factors that influence whether or not an area is walkable for pedestrians. They include the number of destinations within walking distance of where people live, safety measures such as lighting, wayfinding and crosswalks, real or perceived fear of unsafe traffic conditions and/or crime, and whether or not the pedestrian walk is designed for persons of all ages and abilities.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger