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Wait over for walkway

By ELENA LESLEY
Published January 5, 2007


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CRYSTAL RIVER - Since Dick Marion moved to Crystal River Village 13 years ago, his neighbors have careened on dirt, grass or road, by wheelchair or walker, to get to the Kash n' Karry plaza on U.S. 19.

And for nearly that long, Marion, 72, has made regular appearances at City Council meetings, demanding sidewalks for his area.

On Thursday, officials dedicated the first strip of the "Richard Marion Walkway." There's even a sign posted.

The sidewalk runs on the east side of SE Eighth Avenue from near U.S. 19 to Jim LeGrone Park at SE Fifth Terrace.

The city hopes to extend the path up to State Road 44.

"A sidewalk has been needed in this area for years and years," Marion said Thursday. "I guess they just got tired of hearing from me."

When Marion and his wife, Barbara, first moved to Crystal River, they noticed the absence of a sidewalk immediately.

"My wife would be returning home from church and see people in the middle of the street with wheelchairs," Marion said. "How ridiculous is that?"

Crystal River Village, a community for seniors, sits near a bend in SE Eighth Avenue, just east of U.S. 19.

The Kash n' Karry plaza is a short - but potentially dangerous - walk. Many drivers use SE Eighth as a bypass between U.S. 19 and SR 44, much like Cutler Spur is used, City Council member Susan Kirk said.

Still, it took years to get the sidewalk. And years of local advocacy by Marion.

At countless meetings, he would "get up and say, 'When am I getting my sidewalk?' " Mayor Ron Kitchen said at the dedication Thursday.

While some residents have charged that infrastructure needs are addressed more quickly on the city's west side, Marion said he wasn't sure if that played a role in the amount of time this project took.

"There are large new homes west of 19, and most on the east side are inhabited by lower- or fixed-income" residents, he said. But Marion pointed out that the rapid turnover of city staffers may also have played a part.

"They always told me, 'It's in the five-year plan,' " he said of previous councils. When five years were up, he would confront them with a familiar refrain: "Where's my sidewalk?"

Representatives from the city said they didn't know why the project took so long, but added that sidewalks are expensive and relatively new in Crystal River.

"We're trying to be a walkable and bikeable community, but we have a limited budget," Kirk said. "So we have to do things piecemeal and connect the dots."

The 4,000 feet of sidewalk on SE Eighth Avenue cost $75,000 to build. Before authorities can extend the walkway to SR 44, through the Copeland Park area, some engineering concerns must be addressed.

"In the future, we're going to try to expedite the process," said John Lettow, public works director.

Though workers are still putting some finishing touches on the sidewalk, residents have already started to use it. That includes Marion, who travels to the shopping plaza by wheelchair since his diagnosis with Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a ride well-deserved.

The council "usually has two meetings a month, and it was rare that I would miss it," he said. "So multiply two into 12 and a half years, that's how often I went."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 564-3627.

[Last modified January 4, 2007, 20:37:33]


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