Have an unpaved alley behind your house? Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, wants to force you to pay to pave it.

The city now only paves alleys if a majority of property owners along the alley petition to have the job done, and it paves about three or four a year.

After many years, that’s left the city, Public Works Director David Jennings says, with only about half its alleys paved.

Ald. Moran says, “We need to pave many more than that. It’s a basic quality of life issue. We’re spending way too much grading unpaved alleys now. Drainage needs to be put in these alleys so we can get rid of mosquitoes.”

“We need to reassess how we go about this. I’ve seen alley paving projects defeated for any number of parochial reasons. Soetimes the person who lives in the first house off the mouth of the alley, who doesn’t care about a six foot pit in the middle, blocks it. Or the half of the block that’s on higher land opposes it because their lots don’t flood,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that the correct thing to do is pave them,” Ald. Moran added.

Mr. Jennings said the city has the legal right to force a special assessment on property owners without their approval, but so far it has chosen not to take that approach.

Ald. Moran said the city needs to consider mandating the special assessments. “Now we can get the tyranny of the majority,” with residents denying their neighbors needed improvements for selfish reasons.

Mr. Jennings estimated that paving the remaining unpaved alleys would cost $30 million to $40 million or more.

That’s more than the city’s entire annual capital improvement program budget most years. And given likely objections from residents who’ve already been assessed to pay for paving their alleys, it’s unlikely an approach other than special assessments could win council approval.

No other aldermen at Wednesday’s special City Council meeting on capital improvements addressed the alley paving issue.

City Manager Julia Carroll said there is “some merit in evaluating the cost and time spent on maintenance of alleys” and comparing that to the cost of paving them.

Mr. Jennings said he hopes to have some suggestions about the alley paving program within six months as part of a multi-modal transportation plan report called for in the city’s strategic plan.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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