As teachers and students head back to their classrooms, I'm happy to see those in my hometown of Forreston, Illinois, have a safer way to get to and from school.
Those who live or work nearby might have noticed some road construction this summer around the school buildings. The improvements, which wrapped up in time for the start of school, was all part of the Safe Routes to School grant awarded to Forreston.
In 2019, Fehr Graham helped the Village of Forreston secure the Safe Routes to School Grant through the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The grant not only intends to provide safer routes to schools but hopes to encourage infrastructure improvements and provide safety education and incentives to encourage more walking and biking to school.
The goal was to improve routes surrounding the elementary and junior high schools by making them safer, more convenient and fun for children to walk and bicycle to and from school. Now that it's safer, we hope more children will walk and ride their bikes to school to boost physical activity to improve health.
Both of those crossings happened to fall within two state routes, Illinois Route 26 and Illinois Route 72. That allowed our design team to focus on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant crossings, sidewalk improvements and pedestrian signal installation.
Our team designed improvements with student safety at the forefront. We completed a topographic survey, and an Environmental Survey Request and Project Development Report for the first phase of the project. We were able to acquire land for adjacent temporary construction easements and obtain IDOT approval on the engineering design plans as the project entered its second phase. The final phase, construction, was completed over the summer months while school was not in session and Fehr Graham was involved in the construction observation efforts.
Safe crosswalks and sidewalks are critical for students, teachers and staff, but also for families who regularly navigate those areas for drop off and pick up.
According to the Safe Routes Partnership, children today are less active, less independent and less healthy. Today, about 15% of children in the U.S. walk or bike to school. Studies show the Safe Routes to School program is effective at increasing biking and walking to school and decreasing injuries.
In 2005, Congress approved funding for the Safe Routes to School programs in all 50 states. Funding is still available under the federal transportation bill and many communities have used the funds to construct bicycle lanes, pathways, speed monitoring systems, sidewalks and accessible route improvements for individuals with disabilities.
The funding cycle for Safe Routes to School grants through IDOT is available now, and applications must be submitted by Sept. 30. More than $12 million is available, and I would love to help more communities like Forreston prioritize safe, accessible routes to school. Selection criteria can be found at idot.click/SRTS. I can help develop a plan and navigate the process.