Prairie Township aims to improve pedestrian safety

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 Prairie Township is making an effort to ensure that their children have a safer walk to school.

According to Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker, the township is applying for a community planning grant through the Ohio Department of Education (ODOT), which would allow them to participate in a pilot program called Safe Routes to School (SRTS).

The program, which was kicked off by ODOT in January, aims at making it safer and easier for children to get to school by walking or riding a bike.

ODOT plans provide an estimated total of $3 million dollars of federal funding to groups selected for the first round SRTS. They will then provide approximately $5 million in funding a year to selected groups through 2009. The SRTS project is 100 percent funded by the Federal Highway Administration using federal gas tax dollars, meaning that if Prairie Township is selected to participate, they will not be required to use township funds.

The money allocated through SRTS will be used on a variety of activities that should be a mix of educational, encouragement, health and infrastructure projects. This could mean sidewalks, bike paths, crosswalks, traffic studies, bike racks, etc. The money could also be used for the development of these projects.

Deciding who gets the money, however, has been tougher than ODOT anticipated.

According to Lindsay Medicino of ODOT, organizations ranging from state, local and regional agencies began submitting letters of intent for the SRTS project in January. Requests in these letters totaled over $30 million, much more than the $19 million allocated to the project. Individual agencies requested anywhere from $3,500 to $500,000.

Due to the overwhelming response, ODOT was forced to temporarily halt the application process. They hired a consultant to fine-tune the requirements for participants, and picked up where they left off in late July.

Rather than begin the process again, they took another look at the original letters of intent submitted, and narrowed those down according to the new qualifications. Agencies still eligible after this process are now required to submit full applications which are to be completed by Sept. 7.

Prairie Township, according to Hatmaker, is still in the running.

“We are very optimistic that we will be chosen,” said Hatmaker.

Prairie Township officials plan to submit a request for $5,000 to fund engineering planning and $1,000 to help facilitate public involvement. With this money, they hope to evaluate existing conditions, identify problems and create cost-effective solutions to these problems. It is the township’s hope that this research will help identify possible improvement projects under the SRTS plan that might be eligible for future ODOT funding.

They plan to concentrate their efforts around Prairie Lincoln Elementary. Hatmaker attributes this choice to concerns that have been raised about the safety of children walking to this school.

Hatmaker added that many children who attend Prairie Lincoln Elementary live in high-traffic areas and/or areas with few or no sidewalks.

According to ODOT, there were over 80 fatalities and more than 6,000 injuries to children while walking to and from school from 2002-2005.

Prairie Township officials view this project as a chance to accomplish many different goals.

By enabling and encouraging children to walk and bike to school, they hope to promoting better health in children, which is becoming an issue nationwide. Officials have pointed a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine Study which found that today’s children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

They also hope that fewer children catching rides to school will result in less fuel consumption and air pollution.

The Prairie Township Board of Trustees is asking for community involvement, should they be picked to participate in the SRTS Program. Any residents with questions or those interested in participating should contact Tracy Hatmaker, township administrator, at 878-3317 (ext.114).

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