Athens Worries Over Possibility of State Cutting Safe Route Program
The Safe Routes to School program is a state-funded grant that works with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to promote the improvement of city sidewalks, steps and other pavement-based aspects to allow safer travel to and from school for students who prefer to walk or ride their bikes.
The City of Athens has already taken advantage of the grant within the last year.
“We’ve benefitted quite a bit,” said Business Manager of Athens City Schools, Dave MacAllister. “We have been able to repair sidewalks and purchase crossing lights on streets near our schools.”
Most of the improvements in Athens have been near East and West Elementary schools.
“We have been able to put in two sidewalks right behind the school,” said East Elementary principal, Denny Boger. “The entry to the school is better in the west and the back of the school.”
The possibilities for future improvements have come under question within last week’s town hall meeting where Athens’ Mayor Paul Wiehl hinted at the state cutting the program; something that, if accomplished, could affect several children’s trip to school.
“One of the concerns is there’s a transportation authorization bill that’s going through the feds right now,” said Wiehl. “Supposedly safe routes to school will be taken out of the mix. So we may be seeing the last of it, but I hope not.”
Wiehl also mentioned that with phase one complete–sidewalk repair and cross lights–the city can move on to phase two and three of the grant.
“We are getting ready to start working on our project for West Elementary,” said McAllister. “It involves building a set of steps from West State Street towards the baseball fields. Students would then get to walk up those instead of walking up Central Avenue.”
“We will be working on phase three of safe routes to school,” said Wiehl. “We are trying to get a sidewalk next to Arts West. There’s a lot of traffic that goes through and no sidewalk there.”
For now the improvements will continue. The chance of the grant being cut in the future has not deterred those involved.
“It has been a good use for our tax dollars. It has also made it safer for kids from the elementary age to seniors who are at school after hours to come and go as the please,” said Boger.