Merrimack Valley School District in final planning stages of Safe Routes to School project
Almost five years after applying for federal Safe Routes to School money, the Merrimack Valley School District is in the final planning stages for its major project.
The proposal for Boscawen Elementary School includes installing 1,165 feet of new sidewalk on B.E.S.T. Avenue, where grass and hardpack straddle the road leading to the school. The 5-foot-wide sidewalk will connect with existing sidewalks on Route 3, providing a final, safe connection for students walking or riding their bikes to school. The project also includes traffic calming measures at the busy stretch of Route 3 at the intersection with B.E.S.T. Avenue, the only access and egress point to the school.
New flashing speed limit signs showing driver speeds, pavement markings and high-visibility crosswalk improvements will be installed. The federal grant program will cover the estimated $160,000 cost of the project.
“We’re getting near the end of this,” said Fred Reagan, district facilities director. “It’s been a little slow going because of a lack of parent interest, and a lot of that is because of safety concerns with Route 3.”
A community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Boscawen Elementary School, where planners will answer questions and hear concerns related to pedestrian access and safety on B.E.S.T. Avenue. “We want to present the plan and answer any questions or concerns that might be out there,” Reagan said.
Students riding their bikes or walking to school currently have no safe travel options after they enter B.E.S.T. Avenue from the sidewalks on Route 3. Riding on B.E.S.T. Avenue is dangerous because of buses, parent drop-offs and other traffic on the road leading to the school. The crosswalk enhancements are also needed because students coming from the south of the school use sidewalks across Route 3 from the school.
“We have people driving up before and after school. It’s nice to have a school set back in the woods, in terms of it not being visible from the road. The downside is you’re out in the woods and getting in and out isn’t easy,” said Lorrie Carey, a state representative from Boscawen who supported the Safe Routes to School application.
The state Department of Transportation has awarded its entire $8 million Safe Routes to School allocation as reimbursement grants to local communities. The projects are completed at no cost to the local municipalities, said John Corrigan, program coordinator for Safe Routes. With all of the money awarded, the Safe Routes to School program will become part of the Transportation Alternative Program, which consolidates independent programs.
The state DOT has decided to limit such grants to infrastructure projects. The reimbursement rate will decline from 100 percent to 80 percent for new Safe Routes to School projects, Corrigan said.
The district received two smaller grants, $5,000 and $2,500, for seed money and planning for the project. The $5,000 startup grant was used in Boscawen for bike safety programming at the school, providing two bicycles and free bicycle helmets for every fourth- and fifth-grade student.
Using a $2,500 travel plan grant, a conceptual plan was completed that included summarizing the existing conditions and identifying proposed alternatives that included a new sidewalk and improvements to the crosswalk at the intersection. “Part of the plan is coming up with what the best route is for different neighborhoods,” Reagan said. “We look at what is the safest way for them to get to school.”
Engineering should complete the design phase by the end of the year, and construction should begin next year with an eye toward completion before the 2015 year. Upon completion, the Boscawen Police Department will have a morning and afternoon presence to ensure safety, Reagan said.
Once completed, the project could expand an existing Safe Routes to School initiative in Merrimack Valley: the walking school buses to the middle school. In two separate groups, more than 30 kids and a group of parents walk to the middle school from designated locations on designated days. A $30,000 grant helped support that program, Reagan said.
“That’s what we could do in Boscawen. The problem is we don’t have a sidewalk going up Best Avenue yet,” he said. “Once we get that sidewalk in, we think it will catch on.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)