Town targets crumbling sidewalks

file photoCrumbling sidewalks, like this one in Andover, are the targets of a new repair plan by town leaders. 

Walking the sidewalks of Andover will likely get a lot easier in the next few years – and probably much safer, too.

Town Manager Andrew Flanagan and the Select Board have agreed to carry out an extensive plan to repair and build sidewalks.

The town's budget for small sidewalk repairs has been increased by $50,000 annually for the last few years, Flanagan said. In October, he and the selectmen decided to recommend that $950,000 be set aside for reconstruction of old and installation of new sidewalks during the next fiscal year, which will start July 1. This recommendation is part of the town's Capital Improvement Plan.

The sidewalk program needs the approval of the April 27 annual Town Meeting to take effect.

Asked which streets will get new or rebuilt sidewalks, Flanagan said that has not yet been determined. A recommendation will probably be presented in March, he said.

"The $950,000 is 10% of our free cash balance," Flanagan said.

"We haven't added new sidewalks in years," veteran Selectman Alex Vispoli said.

The Select Board established the construction of new sidewalks as a goal for Flanagan last summer, he said.

Many people in Andover have asked to have their sidewalks repaired or replaced, he said. Others have urged the town to build sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

"It continues to be a request from residents," he said.

Safety is the No. 1 reason for expanding and improving sidewalks, Vispoli said. Convenience is another important reason, he said.

More and better sidewalks will make it easier for people to walk on downtown streets, he said. Vispoli's colleagues also expressed support for the plan.

"I support expanding Andover’s sidewalk maintenance program and adding new sidewalks to address pedestrian safety," said Laura Gregory, chairwoman of the Select Board. "In July, the Select Board established a goal for the town manager that focused on investing in maintenance of existing sidewalks and adding new sidewalks needed to improve safety. The FY 2021 capital improvement program that will go before Town Meeting establishes a sidewalk program funded by earmarking 10% of our free cash balance.

"With Town Meeting’s approval this sidewalk program combined with the existing program will result in an historic investment in Andover’s sidewalks,'' she said. "I, along with the Select Board, am committed to improving the town’s infrastructure and recognizing our residents’ desire to see Andover make strategic investments in pedestrian-friendly improvements."  

"Making sure we have safe sidewalks for the residents of Andover is a top priority for the town and I fully support the town manager's plans," Selectman Dan Koh said. 

"Sidewalk repair and expansion is a priority of the Select Board, and we’re all pleased to see the increased investment reflected in the town manager’s Capital Improvement Program," Selectman Ann Gilbert said. "This has been a long time coming, and while it’s just a start, we know how important safe sidewalks are to residents in many Andover neighborhoods."

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