8News Investigates: Neglected city sidewalks and the cost to taxpayers

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — If you work, live, or play in Richmond, you know you have to watch your step on some of those city sidewalks. Cracked concrete, uneven pavement, missing bricks aren’t hard to find, and neither is an eight-inch gap between two sidewalks around a city school.

Whether it’s near children, the elderly, in The Fan or downtown, it doesn’t matter — one must step cautiously or they could tumble.

Richmonder Jimmy Strickland pointed out to 8News the spot where he tripped and took a bad fall.

“My foot hit the raised concrete and I hit the wet leaves,” Strickland said.

He said it happened on Grace Street last year.

“I hit the concrete and got myself back up and had to go to the hospital,” he said.

Strickland’s elbow was broken in three places and he had to have an emergency surgery.

“I spent two days in the hospital, he said.” It cost over $70,000 in medical bills.”

Strickland filed a complaint and claim with the city. Despite the uneven pavement up and down this street, the city said it wasn’t liable.

Even a year since his fall, Strickland believes that patch of sidewalk is still a safety hazard.

“It is all the same. Nothing has been touched,” he said, pointing again to the spot where he fell.

Strickland isn’t alone. 8News uncovered Richmond has been hit with 35 claims in the last five years from people who say they were injured tripping on city sidewalks.

8News also discovered some of those injuries are costing taxpayers big bucks.

In one case a woman was coming out of the city’s Main Library when she tripped over a raised edge in the sidewalk. The case was settled for $105,000.

According to another lawsuit, a woman was seriously injured on Park Avenue when she tripped on a raised portion of the sidewalk. That case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

“Four, five years, six years, some of these problems have existed. The argument could be made that they are public nuisances at this point,” Attorney Matt Lastrapes, with Commonwealth Law Group said.

He has represented a number of people who claim they’ve fallen due to crumbling city sidewalks.

“The city has known about these problems for a number of years,” Lastrapes said.

Lastrapes is right. 8News can see the city was warned about its failing sidewalks and safety hazards in city auditors report back in 2013.

The report found Richmond lacked an inventory of its sidewalks and sidewalk complaints, and had no process in place for identifying sidewalks in need of repairs.

That 2013 audit noted a sidewalk on Texas Avenue as in need of maintenance. 8News checked back four years later and nothing has changed. The sidewalk is still raised and uneven.

That same report called a section of sidewalk on Devonshire Road a “hazardous condition.” Four years later, it too, looks the same.

“What I have been told is it is a funding problem,” Richmond City Councilwoman Kristen Larson said.

Larson said it comes down to money. For the fiscal year 2017 $1.1 million was set aside for sidewalk repairs. However, Larson said only about $200,000 is really for general sidewalk repairs.

8News can see overall sidewalk funding has decreased over the years. In the fiscal year 2016, $2.3 million was budgeted and the two years prior, $2 million had been set aside.

“The city doesn’t have its priorities right,” Strickland said, noting how much Richmond spent on the UCI Road World Cycling Championships. “The city can spend millions of dollars to repave the streets for a bicycle race that brings very little revenue to the city, but they don’t repair the sidewalks that people use every day.”

“The problem is for every year they don’t adequately fund it, the infrastructure gets that much older and the problems get that much more serious and expensive to fix,” Lastrapes said.

The councilwoman agrees. “We need to make sure that we are consciously investing more so we are not dealing with complaints, and so we [do not have] to go to court,” Larson said. “That is not the way we should we need to be running our city.”

Larson recently got a measure passed to set aside $750,000 in surplus funds for sidewalk repairs next year.

For Strickland and the dozens of others injured, it’s too little too late.

“The pain is every day. Even when I sleep, I feel the pain of the metal against the bed,” Strickland said. “The screws [are] coming through his arm.”

Richmond’s Department of Public Works told 8News it is now in the process of conducting an inventory of the city’s more than 800 miles of sidewalks.

DPW also told 8News it now documents and investigates all sidewalk complaints.

If you would want to file a complaint, you can do so on the city’s website and at RVAOne.

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