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Sidewalks seen as boon for school safety

Projects due to begin near pair of Hillsboro campuses

Hillsboro City Council member Kyle Allen is a man on a safety mission, and he is finding a lot of support these days.

Allen, who was elected to the council in November and took office in January, made the construction of new sidewalks leading to and from Hillsboro schools a key campaign issue.

This spring, work is getting started on putting in sidewalks where none currently exist at two local schools: Along Alder Street and Southeast 24th Avenue at W.L. Henry Elementary School and along Grant Street near Poynter Middle School.

“Our community has known about these missing sidewalks for decades and has talked about fixing them eventually,” Allen said. “As a council, it’s our job to set the policy of the city. I’ve tried to make that policy reflect a safe community with safe sidewalks.”

At Poynter, paving was scheduled to begin this week, with completion anticipated in early May. The cost of the sidewalks and related work around Poynter is $450,000, and the project is being funded through Gain Share dollars.

At W.L. Henry, construction is expected to begin soon, with completion expected by the middle of June. The cost of the sidewalk project at W.L. Henry is $300,000, and is also funded by Gain Share.

“The city staff does the work needed to make these sidewalks happen. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit, and do an excellent job,” Allen said.

School district officials said they were happy to see the safety projects under way.

“We are extremely excited for the sidewalk improvement projects near W.L. Henry and Poynter Middle School to be completed this spring,” said Casey Waletich, the Hillsboro School District’s director of safety and operations. “They will provide improved safe routes for our students and families as they walk to and from school. The city of Hillsboro has been a great partner in these and many other projects to improve student safety in the district.”

Council OK’d construction

Allen was serving on Hillsboro’s budget committee when members approved funds to build a sidewalk on the north side of W.L. Henry. The council approved the construction bid for the new sidewalk at the Feb. 3 council meeting.

Even with funds for these key projects in hand, Allen did not want to take the city’s focus off installing sidewalks at schools where safe walkways are needed. In March, when the council was debating what to list as its top 10 priorities for 2015, Allen made the motion to keep safety projects for pedestrians and bicyclists as a priority, with strong backing from council president Steve Callaway. In the end, the council expanded its priority list to 11 items to ensure the safety projects remained on the list.

Allen also pushed hard to schedule one more school sidewalk project for 2016 — Southeast Cedar Street leading to Brookwood Elementary School.

“I made the case that construction costs are rising, so the sooner we get these projects done, the more taxpayer dollars we save — and the risk of a tragedy is reduced,” Allen said.

According to Patrick Preston, public affairs manager for the city of Hillsboro, the Brookwood sidewalk project is expected to cost approximately $3 million. Construction is expected to start around this time next year, with completion in summer 2017. Gain Share funds will cover $1.5 million of the cost, with the remainder coming from a variety of other sources, including city Transportation Utility Fee (TUF) funds.

More long-range projects

Even more ambitious is a plan to build a sidewalk along Sunrise Lane so students who walk between Jackson School Road and 25th Avenue can safely reach Mooberry Elementary School. That project will require $7 million to complete. The project is currently unfunded, but is the next project in line for TUF funds.

“We estimate it will be around 2020-2023 before we can accumulate enough TUF funds to construct the (Sunrise) project,” Preston said. “The first two projects are smaller in scope. All that was needed was to build sidewalks. The last two projects require road widening, curbs, gutters, storm drainage and street lighting. Those have to be built, and we need to purchase right of way in some cases.”

After the projects at Mooberry and Brookwood are completed, Allen has his sights set on another long-range sidewalk project.

“It’s clear that as almost 20,000 people move into South Hillsboro, we will need to build the sidewalks at Rosedale Elementary School,” Allen said. “That’s currently not an issue because those homes have not been built, but it will become a priority in the future.”

Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck said he is a big supporter of building sidewalks around the county to enhance pedestrian safety. During last year’s election campaign, Duyck said the county has been working diligently on sidewalks, and he pledged to keep at it.

“We’re continuing the policy of completing sidewalk infills,” Duyck said during last fall’s campaign. “We’ve been doing this for four years. We’ve never spent more on (routes for) bikes and pedestrians. These are livability issues and safety issues.”

On Monday, Duyck said he is gratified to see the Hillsboro school sidewalk projects going forward.

“Everyone knows the impact the opening of school creates on already congested roads,” Duyck said. “Sidewalks reduce road congestion, increase children’s health and make it safer to walk to school. They should be seen as a part of our overall transportation system.”


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