Newton County receives pedestrian grant for schools

Photo by Karie Bradley

Photo by Karie Bradley

COVINGTON -- Some students in Newton County now will have the opportunity to take a safe walk or bike to school.

The Newton County School System announced this week that the county was chosen to receive a $316,700 grant as part of the Safe Routes to School infrastructure project. The Newton County Board of Commissioners and NCSS submitted a joint proposal to the state in November.

The Georgia Department of Transportation chose Newton County and the City of Statham in Barrow County were the two entities in Georgia's 7th Congressional District to receive funding for such a project. Statham was awarded $160,000 for an elementary school project.

"SRTS is a worthwhile program from many perspectives," said Rudy Bowen, board chair of the district's state transportation board. "It can reduce those aggravating and pollution-generating waits to drop off or pick up children and at the same time, help our children stay safe, active and physically fit."

DOT staff and board members considered qualifications based on the applications and selected the winning districts, he said.

Safe Routes to School is a federally funded, national program to reduce congestion, improve safety and promote the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to school.

In November, the Board of Commissioners submitted the application on behalf of the school system and agreed to have its engineering department work with the Georgia DOT, which will oversee construction of the project.

The grant is expected to fund projects at Fairview Elementary School, Live Oak Elementary, West Newton Elementary, Clements Middle School and Veterans Memorial Middle School to enhance walking and bicycling opportunities for students. They were chosen because a total of 530 students live within a half mile of the five schools, 869 within one mile and 1,989 within one-and-a-half miles, according to NCSS.

The schools are members of the Safe Routes to School Resource Center and participated in International Walk to School Month in October. Schools also established walking clubs and walk-a-thons at the schools.

Infrastructure improvements will include the installation of bicycle racks, sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks, warning sign, and in-road warning light systems for crosswalks on Fairview Road, Brown Bridge Road and Kirkland Road, where the schools are located. The IRWLS include high intensity, bidirectional in-pavement flashing lights, as well as pre-warning flashing LED signs to prepare motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

"Hopefully, as infrastructures are put in place, more and more students will choose to walk or ride their bikes to school, not only to improve their own health and fitness, but to improve the air quality around their schools through a reduction of car and bus traffic in the area," said NCCS Grants Coordinator Kathy Garber. "If we can help make this happen, it will be a benefit to the entire community."

Garber said the grant will cover all construction costs but it could be some time before the projects are complete.

"I do not know when work will begin since the Georgia DOT will be doing the engineering, bids and overseeing construction," she said.

In November, she said it could take up to a year for the projects to be complete.