State awards final Safe Routes to School grants
The state will use all of its remaining Safe Routes to School money – nearly $2 million – to pay for sidewalk and bike lane construction projects in 11 New Hampshire communities – meaning one more planned round of grant applications has been cancelled.
The Safe Routes to School advisory committee and state Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement last week awarded $1.9 million to towns including Henniker, Hopkinton and Pembroke during this sixth and now final round of applications.
All three towns received the full amount requested in their applications.
Pembroke will use its $162,728 to build sidewalks along Pembroke Hill Road, where there are none. Second-grade teacher Jennifer Jones, who coordinated the Safe Routes to School grant application, said she expected the project to have the same effect as the town’s recent improvements to sidewalks and crosswalks on Broadway.
Kids are more excited to walk to school, she said, and parents are more excited to let them do it.
“The parents are more invested in their children walking to school,” Jones said. “A lot of parents are walking to school with their children, and at the end of the day, they’re walking to school to pick them up. The attitude has changed in the community. It’s more inviting to walk; it’s safer.”
Near the Henniker Community School, the approved $214,431 grant will rebuild poor-quality sidewalks on Western Avenue. Portions of that sidewalk are not raised on a curb, Town Administrator Tom Yennerell said, and in some places, the sidewalk is only identified by a white line painted on the road.
“It will undoubtedly make it much safer for (pedestrians) because drivers of vehicles will see the obvious curb and sidewalk,” Yennerell said.
Hopkinton was granted a $227,816 grant to build up inadequate sidewalks on Kearsarge Avenue.
Other communities that received awards are Bristol, Claremont, Colebrook, Keene, Lebanon, Nashua, Plaistow and Portsmouth.
John Corrigan, Safe Routes to School coordinator for New Hampshire, said this announcement marks the end of Safe Routes to School grants through what’s called SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users).
The seventh and final round for grant applications was canceled when all of the state’s remaining money for the project went toward the awards announced last week.
Safe Routes to School staff will now help the communities implement their plans, he said.
“We are reaching the end of Safe Routes to School as a stand-alone program. . . . I think the desire was to get the remaining SAFETEA-LU money allocated so we can work with the communities that stepped up to the plate,” Corrigan said.
Most projects that were eligible for Safe Routes to School money will now fall under the Transportation Alternatives Program, though Corrigan said he is not yet sure how money for those projects will be administered. However, applicants will now be required to cover some of the cost for their projects.
“(What) we do know is that there will be less money available, and the reimbursement will drop from 100 percent to 80 percent,” he said.
The need to create safer pathways for walkers and bikers is still there, Corrigan said, even if Safe Routes to School is not.
“We’re barely scratching the surface,” Corrigan said. “There’s a tremendous need for bicycle and sidewalk infrastructure throughout the state.”
Yennerell said he sees that need in Henniker, and he hopes the town will be able to apply for similar funds from the Transportation Alternatives Program.
“We’ve identified a lot of areas to do future work on providing safer routes to school for pedestrians and bicycles, so we’ll continue to do that through this new program if we’re capable and eligible,” Yennerell said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)