As traffic whizzed by on West Street, Nancy Patterson and her service dog, Mahler, rolled smoothly past homes and car dealerships until a utility pole jutted from the center of the brand-new sidewalk.
Patterson negotiated her wheelchair around the pole, wincing as she got close to the road, and kept rolling, too excited to pay the obstacle much mind.
"I haven't been able to walk on West Street, ever, before today," Patterson said. "It's a huge freedom for people with disabilities."
The State Highway Administration finished a $1.8 million project in Annapolis this month to put in sidewalks that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But nine of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s utility poles weren't moved in time, so the highway administration built the 1.8 miles of sidewalks around them.
"This is the worst one," Orrin Wallerson, an inspector with the SHA, said has he watched Patterson inch her way around the obstacle. "There's a lot of stuff we have to move."
BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said the company was waiting for the highway administration to secure permits to move the poles. Lighty said the work should be completed by the end of the year.
Replacing West Street's uneven, broken and narrow sidewalks, which were punctuated by steep slopes and high curbs, has been a priority of the Anne Arundel County Commission on Disability Issues for nearly 20 years, commission chair Ginger Palmer said.
The project involved persuading about 150 property owners to give away at least a 2-foot-wide swath of property to widen the sidewalk and create enough space for gradual rises and declines at curbs and driveways. Only one property owner refused to participate, said Bryan Cornelius, SHA project engineer.
Palmer said she and Patterson wanted a test drive of the project before the big unveiling this week.
"From the street, it looks like there's a pole in the middle of it," Palmer said. But the two women were happy to discover that even with the poles, they could travel the entire length from Taylor Avenue to Solomons Island Road.
"This is awesome," Palmer said, sitting in an alcove near the Annapolis library. "We wanted to come firsthand to see what it's like. It's created access for everybody."
State officials have been working to improve access for people with disabilities. The State Highway Administration's ADA Sidewalk program spent $19.8 million statewide on addressing those issues last year. In a letter sent this year to federal authorities, the state said that as of Dec. 31, 2011, about 61.2 percent of state sidewalks were ADA-compliant, along with 28 percent of curb ramps and 57 percent of bus stops.
Patterson said she's been longing to go the three blocks from her parents' home in Park Place to Paul's Restaurant. But before the new sidewalks were put in, the journey meant crossing the street a few times and having her parents help lift her wheelchair over the high curbs. The new, slick concrete — regardless of the utility poles — eliminates the stress of devising tailored solutions to problems other people never consider.
"When you have a disability, you're always trying to figure out other ways to do things," Patterson said. "It takes thinking and planning. All the work they did took all that work out of my day."