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Federal logic can defy common sense

Federal authority can be a good thing, when it's used to make sure tax dollars are serving the public good. Then there are those times when federal rules focus on "compliance" at the expense of common sense. That seems to be what's happening in the case of Medford's sidewalk ramps.

The ramps — the curb cuts at street intersections that make it easier for the disabled to enter the crosswalk, especially in wheelchairs — are required under federal law, and the city receives federal money for street repairs. The Federal Highway Administration has told the city it must bring the ramps up to the latest standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act before it can apply new pavement to the affected streets.

For Medford, that means an expense of up to $650,000 out of a street paving budget of $1 million to $1.5 million.

Sidewalk ramps are crucially important for people with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs. But here's the thing: The ramps already exist at many intersections, but they may not be fully compliant with ADA standards. Generally speaking, those ramps with a yellow rubber surface are compliant, while those without the rubber surface may not be.

We assume the non-compliant ramps, while less than perfect, still provide greater access than curbs without ramps. There are many intersections that don't have ramps at all — and fewer of those will be fixed while the money is spent on bringing existing ramps up to compliance.

If money needs to be spent on disabled access before paving, why not spend it to install ramps where they do not yet exist, and upgrade existing ramps later, as more money becomes available?

If the issue is accessibility, surely it makes more sense to expand access to more locations than it is to make the access that already exists perfect.

New pavement is also important. Cracks and potholes in street surfaces can also be difficult to navigate for persons with disabilities. This federal edict may result in upgraded ramps that will lead to streets in need of paving because the money had to be spent on making ramps compliant.