Editor’s Note: Because Monday’s public forum covered so much, I have chosen to divide this subject into two articles. This is the first. The second, which will discuss concerns of homeowners affected by the route, will be published later this week. I also hope to have an interactive map available so that readers can view the sidewalk routes.By Matt Kelton Pioneer Sentinel
The City of Henrietta held a public forum Monday night, allowing a fluid discussion among citizens, city administration and an engineer, concerning the Safe Routes to School program.
The program will be comprised of two projects totaling more than four miles of sidewalk paid for through grants from the Texas Department of Transportation in amounts of $488,000 and $490,000. The project also includes two speed feedback signs, digital displays that inform drivers of how fast they are traveling, to be placed near the junior high and elementary campuses.
The sidewalks will be four-feet wide and will meet ADA standards.
The City of Henrietta qualified for the TxDOT grants in the summer of 2010.
City administration and the streets department supervisor determined routes with input from Henrietta ISD. The positions of city administrator and streets supervisor have since changed in personnel.
In 2009, HISD surveyed the parents of elementary and junior high students, and school staff watched as students arrived to school in an effort to help determine sidewalk routes.
In applying for the grants, the city received letters of encouragement from Dr. David Greer, county health officer, HISD Superintendent Jeff McClure, County Judge Kenneth Liggett and Edwards Public Library.
“The school district has been a big supporter of this,” said City Administrator Kelley Bloodworth. “I really feel like this is going to be a positive thing for Henrietta.”
School surveys revealed that of the 45 percent of elementary school students whose parents responded, 1 percent walked to school and 4 percent rode bicycles, while 95 percent live within two miles of the school.
At the junior high level, 27 percent responded to the survey. Of those, 22 percent walk and 2 percent bike to school. Eighty percent live within two miles of the junior high school.
Safety concerns sited by parents included a lack of sidewalks and marked crosswalks, and high-speed traffic. Parents also said convenience was a reason why their children did not walk to school.
Sidewalks, said Bloodworth, would allow children to get off the street by offering safer transportation routes.
While those in the audience recognized the safety aspects of a sidewalk, they questioned use of the routes.
“They’re not using our street as they once did,” said June Carminati, who lives at the intersection of Glen and Crafton, across from the elementary and high school campuses. “They’ve got other ways to go that are faster.”
Other supported it in full, and welcomed grant monies to support the project.
“These tax dollars that we’ve paid into TxDOT are going to go to someone, and I think we should use them,” said Jimmy Ben Gill of Henrietta. “I don’t think we should turn a deaf ear to something that’s being offered to us.”
The engineering firm of Corlett, Probst and Boyd are in the process of surveying city right-of-ways along the route, and are in what was described as “design mode”. No start date has been set.