City Council could try to pave over South End alley issue by seeking changes to state road laws

City Councilors Bill Linehan and Felix Arroyo said tonight they may try to get an amendment to a current state law that keeps the city from taking over private South End alleyways because they're too narrow to comply with modern public road requirements.

The two spoke at a hearing, chaired by City Councilor Sal LaMattina, to listen to complaints from South End residents about the expenses they're forced to bear when their private alleyways fall apart under the loads of city trash trucks and school buses. The city does not maintain private alleys, although it does plow them - after public roads have been plowed first.

Although neighborhoods across the city have private ways and alleys, South End residents said the issue is particularly acute - and unfair - for them because the neighborhood has a number of public alleys that are maintained by the city, because most of the alleys are required to be open to the public, because many of them also have aging sewer lines on the verge of collapse, and because they pay so much in taxes.

The councilors' comments came after officials from the city public-works and transportation departments said current state law only lets the city take control of roadways that are at least 34 feet wide - 20 feet for the road itself and 14 feet for two sidewalks that comply with federal handicap accessibility requirements. And if the city took ownership of the ways, residents could lose their current right to park on them, they said.

Linehan marveled at the width requirement. "I have some streets that don't have that, in the South End," he said.

One resident, Jerry Frank, said the sidewalk requirement was particularly onerous and pleaded for a change in the laws just so some of the more poorly maintained private ways - such as Ivanhoe Way - could be fixed up enough to be made passable.

Frank also said city ownership would mean some residents wouldn't get stuck footing the bill for repairing an alley. "It's hard to get people to chip into a fund when there's no requirement to chip in," he said.

In fact, some Appleton Street residents got into an argument at the hearing over who should pick up the cost for repairing a private sewer line that serves their homes. One resident told councilors the first she knew about the work was a letter threatening to shut off her sewer connection unless she paid $7,000 immediately; another resident said it's her own fault for never talking to her neighbors. Linehan stepped in and said he would try to mediate between the two sides.

Steve Fox of the Rutland Square Neighborhood Association, pointed to two alleys that border his neighborhood - one public, and one private. The group looked at upgrading the private alley to current specs, only to learn it would cost $600,000 to $800,000 - both to upgrade the roadway itself and to move trees and utility lines to make way for the widening. The city, he said, has always called for public-private partnerships, and his group helps pay for trees, parks, even street sweeping on trash-pickup days.

"In the case of public and private alleyways, we're on our own," he said. "There's not a public-private partnership."

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