For several years there has been concern about improving and re-constructing the sidewalks in Mason, particularly those that are frequently used around the Square. Last Monday evening the City Commission heard from several citizens with specific suggestions and concerns, and then during the regular City Commission meeting discussed and took action on several items of interest to this issue. During the past month I have met three times with representatives of TXDOT and the Texas Transportation Institute and have had meetings with a historic architect who has done work in Mason for the past 25 years. After some discussion and several questions, the Commission agreed to three distinct agenda items dealing with the pedestrian walkways and the possibility of gaining some state funds to assist Mason to address these problems. The first step is to develop a Comprehensive Master Plan of Pedestrian Corridors and Walkways which will connect various locations around our community. The first phase that is being examined in relation to this grant is the pathway between the historic Broad Street Bridge, which is scheduled to be closed to cars and trucks in a couple of years due to age and safety concerns, through the north and west sides of the Square and on to Heritage Park and the Library, Senior Center and City swimming pool located there. This first phase is deemed a “connective pathway” between the north side of town that has limited pedestrian paths into the business district, and the public facilities in Heritage Park that attract over 35,000 visits every year.
The next phase is intended to be a pathway connecting the first phase and the downtown area to the schools on the west end of College Ave and the Post Office and Medical Clinic on the east end, as well as two active churches in between. Further down the road we see a walkway up to the Fort Mason site at the top of Post Hill which is one of the most visited sites in Mason. There was discussion about a safe pathway from the Square to the Hill Country Inn and Short Stop on the west and the grocery store on the east, but this portion has additional problems with TXDOT right-of-ways and other obstacles to construction and safety. One of the issues that does not fit in the current grant application is reference to bringing the sidewalks up to handicap accessibility standards, however it is intended that all walkways constructed will meet or exceed those guidelines. Another significant concern that we must address is the fact that most all of these sidewalks, particularly in the first phase, will be in the National Historic District that Mason had approved in 1991 and thus some of the construction issues will need to be handled in a manner that does not seem direct or fast but that does meet state Historical Commission guidelines.
Once the Master Plan was discussed and approval was granted to proceed, the next decision was to authorize the Mayor to work with the historic architect and submit an application for this current cycle of funding. This Transportation Enhancement program is a construction only, reimbursement grant which means that all expenses of planning and design will be costs to the City. Additionally the City will have to provide construction money to be reimbursed by the State once stages of work are complete and invoices submitted. One of the comments and commitments of the City Commission was that portions of this entire program of pedestrian walkways and sidewalk reconstruction are critical to the long term viability of our town, and whether this grant funding is received or not we need to move forward and see to the problem areas in our community by ourselves if necessary. While I have been working on this situation for over six years and have submitted two previous significant grant applications, I was pleased that the Commission is looking to the future of our community and planning to make some of these improvements, even if no state funding is available. The final item on that meeting’s agenda concerning sidewalks was to accept a Resolution setting the matching funds percentage that the City would commit to this grant. The Commission agreed to set that percentage even higher than the normal to impress the TXDOT reviewers that we are serious and truly concerned to get help in addressing the issues of pedestrian safety in Mason.
There are a number of issues that will have to still be addressed and worked out, such as limiting the travel directions on Broad Street to one way going north, and setting aside and identifying several handicap parking spaces on one or both sides of the street for access to the Square. This may be a change that will have detractors, but as we work through the Master Plan I believe changes such as this will be sensible and accepted, and until that time it is premature to become overly concerned about some of the details. Another issue that has been brought up is to reconstruct the sidewalks in our Historic District, and particularly around the Square, in a manner that appears authentic to the era of the buildings. This is one of the reasons I believe now is the time to have a architect involved that can guide and recommend just how we proceed in that area. Finally, with the constraints of the application process with TXDOT at this time, it is likely that portions of the Square sidewalks will fall to the City to deal with on its own. I explained that this might be the situation, and this was where the Commission voiced support for the City of Mason to deal with our own problems to the extent that we can. That is another part of the situation that will have to be worked out over the next couple of months, but one that I expect we can deal with and prioritize for coming years as we budget City funds to deal with the problems of aging infrastructure and modern expectations.
In all of this I have had only positive responses from the people I have talked with around town. There are concerns of how much we can spend on this issue, how will the businesses located on the Square and beyond deal with limited access during construction, and how to “fix” some of the individual elevation drops from one building to the next, but all of these things are being considered as we move forward in the planning phase. As always I am very interested in hearing your suggestions, ideas and opinions and the best way is to email me at email@example.com and I will give consideration to your input. I have said it many times before, but together we can make Mason the very best hometown in this part of Texas or even throughout the state, and this is just one more project that will show what a real community can accomplish when we choose to work together.
Your friend and neighbor, Brent Hinckley