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State to pay unprecedented $1.1 billion to make walkways accessible to disabled

December 22, 2009 | 11:42 am

In an unprecedented court settlement reached today, Caltrans has agreed to spend $1.1 billion over the next 30 years to repair and improve sidewalks, crosswalks and park-and-ride facilities across the state so they are accessible for people with disabilities.

The settlement, filed at the federal courthouse in Oakland, is a major victory for civil rights activists that have been battling with Caltrans for years to provide equal access to public rights-of-way for the blind and people who use wheelchairs.

"It’s about time," said Ben Rockwell, 64, of Long Beach, a wheelchair user and a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. "While this work might not be finished in my lifetime, I hope that future generations will see better access throughout all areas of the state because of what has been done here."

The agreement applies to about 2,500 miles of sidewalk, crosswalks and park-and-ride facilities that are owned and maintained by Caltrans along state roads and highways.

Attorneys from Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law firm based in Berkeley, contend that thousands of  required wheelchair ramps along state routes are either missing, do not comply with federal law or lack warnings such as bumps that the blind can feel underfoot.

The conditions, they say, are dangerous and can force wheelchair users, for example, to detour onto streets, where they risk being hit by vehicles.

"This settlement is a win-win," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "It would be inexcusable to continue to delay these modifications. Instead of debating this through the legal process for the next decade, costing millions of taxpayer dollars, we are taking action to get this work completed."

-- Dan Weikel

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