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Stow -- Many residents have slowed down passing through school zones at the Echo Hills and Fishcreek elementary buildings because of digital speed-monitoring signs installed for the current school year.
What many may not realize is those signs weren't installed by the Stow-Munroe Falls school district, but rather the Ohio Department of Transportation as part of a nationwide initiative dubbed Safe Routes to School.
"Safe Routes to School is a program through the federal government designed to encourage and enable students in grade K-8 to walk or ride their bicycles safely to school," explained Julie Wolcoff, Ohio Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School manager.
The two speed monitors installed so far are the first in several improvements that will be carried out through the ongoing initiative. A third will eventually be installed on Graham Road near Lakeview Intermediate School.
Most others involve upgrades to several sidewalks, trails and crosswalks near schools throughout the city, many of which will see construction this year, said City Engineer Jim McCleary.
Projects slated for construction between this spring and summer include an all-new sidewalk near Fishcreek Elementary, and crosswalk improvements at Fischreek, Echo Hills Elementary and Lakeview Intermediate schools.
Projects poised for construction between this summer and fall include new sidewalks/trails at Indian Trial Elementary south of the school and through the campus, Northview Drive, Rose Avenue and Hanna Road near Lakeview Intermediate, crosswalk improvements on Stow Road at Maplewood Road and King Drive and the paving of an existing off-road, gravel path located between Lillian and Mohican Roads (which are also near Lakeview).
McCleary called the goal of competing several of those projects this year as having an "aggressive timeline."
"We're planning to be able to complete several projects here in a relatively short period," said Terry Donovan, a consulting engineer to the city. "By the time school opens [this fall], we should be done with these."
Much to the pleasure of city officials, all improvements so far are 100 percent funded through ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Planning Director Rob Kurtz noted.
Through a couple of different applications, Stow has already received more than $700,000 for all efforts completed and planned so far, and even more projects will be applied for in the near future during the next application cycle this coming May.
"[The program] is very significant to the communities we are working with," Wolcoff said. "Communities have reported an increase in walkers and bicyclists where we have completed projects, and parents surveyed feel safer due to some of the countermeasures we have helped communities implement."
Statewide, Wolcoff said about $48 million in grants have been announced so far throughout the life of the project, with about $8 million being allocated across Ohio in two-year cycles.
Stow became involved when the program was announced back in 2007, Kurtz explained. The city first applied in 2008 to have a $24,000 school-travel plan prepared, which outlined what school areas in the city needed the most attention to make them safer for children.
That plan was also entirely paid for by the state.
The city then began applying for infrastructure grants through the program to pay for those improvements, which were awarded in two waves so far in 2010 and 2012.
"It took a long time to get the funding," McCleary said. "But once we got the funding, the city of Stow has proceeded so we get these built in a timely manner to benefit the residents and the students."
Wolcoff noted that while the funding from the federal share changed to 80 percent, ODOT is using federal credit to fund the additional 20 percent, so communities applying for SRTS funds will continue to see 100 percent support as the program continues.
While the projects are geared toward safety for children getting to school, Kurtz said, all pedestrians stand to benefit from the improvements.
"The goal is to improve routes for school kids, but the sidewalks are also a significant improvement for anyone," he said.
More projects will be requested for funding, but until those applications are approved, Kurtz said it's too early to identify which specific projects will be handled next. The city will be applying to have a new sidewalk funded that will be installed on Fishcreek Road south of Stow Road.
City engineers pointed out that the project is particularly special because of the funding support from the state. Kurtz noted it's uncommon for the city to create new sidewalks in particular because those are usually paid for by the property owners.
"The city of Stow would not have been able to undertake the magnitude of projects that we are able to accomplish without the SRTS funding," said Stow Mayor Sara Drew. "We are very appreciative of the support of ODOT for these community enhancements. The benefits for our students and other community members will be realized with greater accessibility, improved pedestrian opportunities and a safer environment for travel. Additionally, I hope these projects contribute to the well-being of residents."
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