Who does the work?Most municipalities use contractors to install ADA-compliant curb ramps.
Source: PUBLIC WORKS Who does the work?Most municipalities use contractors to install ADA-compliant curb ramps.
The domes on these panels in downtown Arlington Heights, Ill., started peeling  after one winter. After inspecting all the panels, the public works department  recommended a coated metal product instead of ceramic coated with rubber.
Photo: Jenni Spinner The domes on these panels in downtown Arlington Heights, Ill., started peeling after one winter. After inspecting all the panels, the public works department recommended a coated metal product instead of ceramic coated with rubber.

Editor's note: While cities are working to make sidewalks more accessible, many are learning that their curb ramps don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This article, the final installment in a three-part series, covers real-world examples.

Given the many intricacies of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it stands to reason that one standard design can't possibly function for every curb ramp. Factors such as slope difference and interfering objects (trees, signs, fire hydrants, etc.) require a customized approach for each curb ramp. This is not to say, however, that each one must be designed from scratch.

The city of Columbus, Ohio, for example, maintains 13 standard curb ramp designs, each of which can be modified on a case-by-case basis. The Texas DOT (TxDOT) frequently incorporates continuous right-turn lanes in its traffic designs and has expanded its drawings to include special curb ramps for traffic islands. TxDOT also has developed designs for switchback ramps to accommodate the high curbs frequently found in rural Texas towns.

Studying similar projects to learn what works—and what doesn't—is important before beginning any new curb ramp project. Training the entire team—not only your staff, but also design consultants and the construction workers that will build the ramps—is necessary to ensure success.

A recent lawsuit in Pennsylvania demonstrates the importance of training all personnel involved with a curb ramp project. A local advocacy group for the disabled sued a city, claiming the city had failed to comply with the ADA. The city negotiated an interim settlement agreement that required it to begin a curb ramp construction program as a part of its ongoing road resurfacing while final settlement negotiations continued.

Early in the program, the city had to suspend curb ramp construction because a high percentage of the newly constructed ramps were not ADA-compliant. The city asked Columbus, Ohio-based H.R. Gray to help develop a training program for engineering staff, inspection personnel, local consultants, and contractors. Ramp construction resumed and nearly 100% compliance was achieved almost immediately.

Ensuring the entire team is in sync also is key to success. One person on the team may have more knowledge of ADA issues than the others, so it's important to meet as a team well in advance of the project's commencement to make sure everyone can benefit from this knowledge before things are underway.

Likewise, if no one on the team feels well educated on the complexities of the ADA, an ADA compliance training course might be helpful for the team to undergo before starting the project. Advocacy groups, which are excellent resources, also should be brought into the project during the planning stages to ensure that any confusion about specifications is addressed in a timely manner.

— Sexton is construction manager with H.R. Gray, Columbus, Ohio.

Taking compliance to new heights

After struggling with its first try, a Chicago suburb gets curb ramps that work.

The Village of Arlington Heights, Ill., doesn't rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to designing and installing its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant curb ramps. It has different designs for each, relying on the engineer and inspector in charge of that particular project to ensure that ADA requirements are met.

“Especially in our downtown, which has narrow sidewalks, we can't use a standard design,” says Jim Massarelli, P.E., director of engineering for the village.

Arlington Heights is a typical town northwest of Chicago. This suburban community of 76,000 people also has its typical sidewalk issues—it is working to become 100% ADA compliant.

The village has a mayor-appointed disabilities coordinator who works closely with the engineering and public works departments to help determine the best approach for curb ramp projects. And, says Massarelli, the disabilities commission is fortunate to have someone in a wheelchair who can give first-person feedback on specific projects.

The average cost of completing new ADA-compliant ramps ranges from $600 to $800 each. For the past 4 or 5 years, Arlington Heights specified red ceramic panels coated with a rubberized material. This product saw poor results: After the first winter, some of the truncated domes were sheared off, cause unknown.

The contractor and manufacturer glued new panels into place. This didn't work either, probably due to water seeping beneath the panels. The village is moving to a coated metal product that was tested and approved by the public works department. Installation falls on the higher end of the cost range, says Massarelli. Results on this new product weren't available at press time; stay tuned to see how well they work. — Amara Rozgus