Lack of funds limits Evanston alley-paving program

Evan Hessel

Funding problems and staff limitations have prevented Evanston’s alley-paving program from substantially reducing the number of pot-hole-ridden and flood-prone alleys, prompting frequent resident phone calls to aldermen.

“There is no ward in this city that does not have many bad alleys,” said Ald. Gene Feldman (9th), a member of the city’s Administration and Public Works Committee.

Several residents have contacted Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) during the past five years regarding alley improvements. One resident called him on a Sunday morning after a rainstorm and requested Moran come see his alley.

“It was like the Everglades,” Moran said. “There was standing water everywhere and several of the adjacent yards were also flooded.”

The Public Works Department has determined that paving and installing drainage structures are the only permanent solution, Feldman said. In the current budget crunch, the city has enough financial and personnel resources to pave about 10 alleys a year – a small percentage of the hundreds of alleys that flood regularly.

The paving program allows residents to apply for alleys on their block to be excavated and paved with 8 inches of concrete. Alley-paving can prevent puddles, reduce backyard flooding and improve access to garages, according to Public Works. Residents pay for half of the project and with matching grants from the city’s special assessment fund covering the other half.

A single citizen can request Public Works survey if a nearby alley needs paving. If officials recommend paving, the citizen must obtain approval for the project from at least half of the other residents on the block, said Glenn Crabtree, Evanston supervisor of streets and sanitation.

The high cost of paving projects often stops residents from actually proceeding with pavement.

Permanent improvements to a single alley can cost as much as $100,000, Feldman said, and residents are often unwilling to split the costs not covered by the city. Residents on blocks that receive alley improvements pay for the project over 10 years with annual installments in their city taxes.

“The high cost has been enough to dampen the effectiveness of the program,” Feldman said.

The city resurfaces all of Evanston’s gravel alleys twice per year at no charge to residents. But the resurfacing procedure only covers the alley with gravel or recycled asphalt chips, which wash away with the first rainstorm, Feldman said. Public Works also installs storm sewers in the alleys to eliminate standing water after rainstorms.

Until Public Works can afford to pave all of Evanston’s gravel alleys, Moran said the city should develop a rating system for alleys in order to grant projects to blocks that have the most serious problems.

“There is no physical limitation as to how many alleys we can fix, as much as there is a funding and staff limitation,” he said. “I would hopefully challenge the notion that we can only do 10 alleys per year.”