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June 24, 2012

Routes to Greer Elementary, Jouett Middle School to get safer

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DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, June 24, 2012

Almost all of the students at Greer Elementary and Jack Jouett Middle School get there either by taking the bus or being driven by a parent.

20051005-SafeRoutes“There are no sidewalks on Lambs Road … it’s just not safe,” said Dieckmann Cogill, a transportation planner hired by the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation.

However, that could change if Albemarle County is successful in getting a federal infrastructure improvement grant.

Under the federally funded Safe Routes to School program, localities may apply for grants to improve paths leading to schools to make them more pedestrian friendly. The county already has received such a grant for Burnley-Moran and Crozet elementaries and is looking to do it again.

The ACCT worked with the county to develop a travel plan for the schools to propose solutions for existing hazards. Students who walk to school are often forced to do so in the road or in the drainage shoulder.

The plan, still in its initial phase, consists of seven separate projects, each of which must be prioritized by the Department of Community Development before construction may begin.

“We have a priority list of sidewalks that we use for our request for sidewalk funding,” explained David Benish, chief of planning, in an interview. “The ability to implement the [Safe Routes to School] plan is based on the amount of funding available to do [such plans], plus all the other priority projects.”

Some of the proposals have found overlap with existing county plans and are already on their way to being budgeted. These projects include constructing crosswalks at the intersection of Georgetown Road and Barracks Road, as well as installing close to 1,800 feet of sidewalk along Hydraulic Road north of Georgetown Road.

Although these projects are considered high-priority infrastructure improvements by the county, no funding has been awarded yet.

The next step for the Safe Routes to School plan is to seek approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Once the plan is approved, the county may then apply to VDOT for grant money.

“We have the Board of Supervisors’ approval for the plan and we’ve submitted it to VDOT for approval,” Cogill said. “When VDOT puts out a call for grant applications, we will be ready to submit.”

The current plan estimates that the project would cost approximately $588,648 and each project would take about two years to complete.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker proposed that the county expedite the project by matching the grant with $375,000 received as a cash proffer from the Stonefield development now under construction.

“Perhaps we could look at allocating some of that [Stonefield] proffer money to accomplish some of the sidewalk projects that are mentioned in here so we don’t have to wait three years to go through with this project,” Rooker said during a Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this month.

According to Benish, that is easier said than done. The Safe Routes to School projects must compete with other projects for each fiscal year’s available funding.

“What we have to do … is set a strategy for implementing all these projects, figure out what the priorities are for them, and see how that money can be used on this project or other projects of higher priority elsewhere in the [capital improvement plan],” Benish said.

According to the ACCT, efforts must also be made to encourage children to get in the habit of walking to school.

Programs such as Crozet Elementary’s occasional “Walk to School” days encourage students to choose the healthier alternative for getting to and from school.

“Once you get people in the habit of walking, they start walking other days, as well,” said ACCT board President Leonard Schoppa.

Those involved with the project have expressed enthusiasm for the plan, not only for Greer and Jack Jouett, but also for its potential for the future of Albemarle County.

“The Greer/Jouett campus is ideal for Safe Routes to School because there actually is a lot of density right within that area,” Cogill said. “If walking is going to work in the county, then this is a really good case study for getting to school by active means.”

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