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Shifting Sidewalk Highlights Hidden Dangers

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, November 13, 2009, at 02:16PM
Broadway Sidewalk Ed Fuentes

A cracked asphalt patch outside the Broadway-Spring Arcade Building shows where a section of sidewalk recently sagged.

Walking along Broadway, it is easy to see the disrepair of buildings that line what used to be the city's premier street for shopping and entertainment. Less apparent is the danger underfoot, where crumbling foundations and extended basements have left the sidewalks near collapse.

A shifting section of sidewalk near the Broadway-Spring Arcade building offers a glimpse, however.

Like many buildings along the street, the basement of the 1924 structure extends under the wide sidewalk, almost to the street itself. After 85 years, the structure underneath these sidewalks is fragile and crumbling.

On this particular stretch of Broadway, just north of 6th, an old asphalt patch shows that two sidewalk panels have been threatening to separate for years. Recently, though, the section nearer to the street appears to have sagged several inches, exaggerating the elevation difference and offering a peek into the void below.

Over time, moisture seepage has corroded much of the steel support structure holding up the concrete sidewalk.

The city has reports on the issue dating back more than 20 years, but it wasn't until this decade that serious repairs started to take place. More than $7 million has been spent on reconstruction thus far, and $4.4 million more is scheduled to be spent in 2010.

Much of the work north of 5th is either completed or scheduled. The process, though, is complicated.

Because the basements are private space, repairs involve significant property owner participation. Jessica Wethington McLean, who heads up Bringing Back Broadway for Councilman Jose Huizar, said that the repairs are a major goal of the effort's streetscape and infrastructure plan. McLean said owners have been very supportive and willing to grant the needed basement access when contacted by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) or the Council office.

New technology should make continuing work cheaper and easier than earlier repairs. The CRA is preparing to use scans similar to x-rays to get a clear picture of the state of foundations along the street. That should allow them to target repairs and reinforcements more efficiently.

In the interim, though, Downtowners might want to tread just a little bit carefully.

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