MACHIAS, Maine — The wheelchair ramp built by a Machias Main Street business over the objection of the Board of Selectmen has been allowed to stand, but may not be around for very long.
The ramp was built at Woodwind Custom Framers and Gallery by Main Street building owner Sandra Bryand during a prolonged row with town about how the ramp would be placed. Bryand wanted to build the ramp in front of the business, while the town, citing sidewalk access and ramp angle issues, preferred that it be built on the uphill side of her building, where a fence currently sits.
As the sidewalks are the property of the Maine Department of Transportation, a meeting was scheduled for Aug. 1 with the department to discuss the options for construction. Faced with a rotting front stoop Bryand opted to build the ramp last week despite the town’s and DOT’s inclination to hold the meeting first.
On Wednesday DOT engineers measured the ramp. Though they had concerns, the engineers found the ramp conformed with federal guidelines and issued a waiver. That allows Bryand to use the ramp until further notice, but the authorization can be retracted. Should the DOT determine that the ramp is an obstruction, it can force Bryand to remove the ramp.
“The waiver is an at-will license to be in the right of way,” said Steve Landry, assistant state traffic engineer. “But we are protecting ourselves in the future.”
The most important issue is the amount of sidewalk space left outside the ramp. The Americans with Disabilities Act currently calls for 36 inches of open sidewalk space, which the ramp currently leaves available. Next year that number may change to 48 inches, at which point Bryand may be forced to rebuild her ramp to meet those guidelines.
“In the end it meets ADA standards, but if 48 inches is adopted she will have to relocate the ramp,” Landry said.
Town Manager Chris Loughlin is quick to point out that another ramp up the street, though also built onto the sidewalk, leaves a lot of room for pedestrians.
“That ramp leaves four and a half, five feet.” he said. “This one is 36 inches. You have to consider the other users of the sidewalk. Usually a business owner puts their ramp on their own property.”
Even though a waiver was granted both the DOT and the town are disappointed that the ramp was built as it was. “We were hoping to reach a mutually agreeable solution,” Loughlin said.
Loughlin also was quick to point out that the problems with the sidewalks in Machias go beyond access space.
“This is probably one of the newer sidewalks in the state, from 1987,” he said. “But it needs a lot of work and the town gets $3,000 a year for maintenance, way below what we need.”
As for Bryand, regardless of the concerns expressed by the town and the DOT, she’s satisfied with the successful completion of her project.