COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Once again, Colorado Springs officials are paying the price for their past failure to maintain key infrastructure.
To settle a federal lawsuit filed last week, city officials agreed to a 14-year plan to upgrade sidewalks, curbs and ramps that don't meet federal disability standards.
The lawsuit, filed last Wednesday by two disabled plaintiffs in Colorado Springs and settled Thursday, accused the city of failing to provide proper access for disabled citizens for at least the past 20 years.
According to the suit, the cost will be in the "tens of millions."
To pay for the project, Mayor John Suthers said the city will continue to upgrade the infrastructure as part of the five-year expanded paving operation financed by a voter-approved sales tax increase in 2015.
"Forty percent of that program, which generates around $55 million annually, goes to improving curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance," he said. "We currently do 1,000 curbs a year."
Suthers said he will ask voters to extend the tax for another five years when it expires at the end of 2020.
"I'm glad it's being done," said Anne Marie Corbett, who was using her walker Monday along Arcturus Drive. "It's not safe to use a walker when the sidewalk is in bad shape. Crossing the street is the worst."
Other funding sources, he said, will come from another sales tax -- the Regional Transit Authority, or RTA, tax, which is used for transportation projects -- and by insisting that developers include ADA-compliant infrastructure in their construction projects.
"Assuming a marginally good economy, I think the city will not have too much trouble," Suthers said.
Patricia Yeager, CEO of the Independence Center, an agency that works with the disabled, said the settlement is a sign that the days of ignoring the ADA are over.
"I would not be surprised if 100,000 people would be affected by this. Not only because of being in a wheelchair, but because they might be using a walker, a scooter or crutches," she said.
Matthew Morris said the settlement also helps people who are blind, as he is.
"There's been times that I've walked down Nevada Avenue and ended up in the middle of the street because I didn't feel the curb cut, or because it wasn't ridged or I stumbled or jammed my cane," he said.
Suthers said the presiding judge blames the situation on past city administrations more than the current administration.
"The judge saw that we made an effort to correct the situation," he said.
City officials are still waiting to learn their penalty for losing a federal lawsuit last year that found the city hadn't done enough to properly maintain its stormwater system.
The expanded paving project is a result of deteriorating streets and potholes caused by a lack of paving and maintenance in the past.