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City Faces Deadline Over River Accessibility

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Springfield city officials have until next week to come up with a plan to address the long-broken public elevator on West Columbus Avenue that’s supposed to provide access to the city’s riverfront.

The elevator, along with a pedestrian bridge, was built in 2002 for $1.5 million to improve access to the riverfront area, which includes a walkway and bike path. But the elevator has been broken for much of that time, thanks to design flaws that allow rainwater to pool in the mechanisms.

In 2011, Sheila McElwaine, a Forest Park resident, filed a complaint about the elevator with the state’s Architectural Access Board, which oversees handicapped accessibility in public facilities. McElwaine is part of a group of volunteers who lead free tours of the riverwalk area, and she’s seen firsthand numerous visitors—people in wheelchairs, families with kids in strollers—unable to get there because of the broken elevator. She filed her complaint, she said, after years of trying, and failing, to get city officials to address the issue adequately: “I was getting promises. There was a certain amount of action, but nothing really happened.”

Even with the state involved, progress has been slow. “[The elevator] never really worked. The city tried and tried a million times to figure out how to get this thing to work,” Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the AAB, told the Advocate. Last year, after it was determined that fixing the elevator would cost $600,000, the AAB encouraged the city to shut it down and replace it with a ramp, he said: “In these tight fiscal times, nobody’s got $600,000.”

The AAB held a hearing on the matter in May of 2012 and met with city officials again in October. At that time, the state agency requested, in writing, a timeframe for building the ramp, a plan for temporary access during the construction, and a plan for maintaining the elevator until the ramp is completed. When the city failed to provide that information by last month, the AAB sent a letter to the Law Department requiring that it do so by May 1.

The board has the power to fine the city as much as $1,000 a day for failing to comply with accessibility regulations, although it has yet to impose any fines. Harris said it’s too early to say what will happen if the city fails to meet the May 1 deadline.

While the AAB has been very responsive, dealing with City Hall over the matter has been frustrating, said McElwaine, who said her concerns were bounced among departments. The lack of attention to the elevator, she added, is part of a larger problem of the city not properly maintaining the riverwalk area.

The city Law Department had not responded to questions from the Advocate at deadline.

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