Blanchester eyes safer pedestrian routes for schoolchildren

By John Hamilton -

BLANCHESTER — “Safety for the kids is more important than money,” said Councilmember Don Gephart at Thursday’s Blanchester Village Council meeting.

Taylor Stuckert of the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission spoke to council about the Safe Routes to School project.

The program, created by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), provides funds to school districts to increase pedestrian activity and infrastructure in the community, according to Stuckert.

“Safe Routes to School is a great way to connect some of these pedestrian ways, linkages, some of the gaps, and some of the routes to school,” said Stuckert.

According to ODOT’s website, “the purpose of Safe Routes to School is to encourage and enable students in grades k-8 to walk or ride their bicycle to school. Projects can be either engineering (improved crossings, sidewalks, etc.) or non-engineering (education and encouragement programs).”

Stuckert told council that the maximum they apply for in grants is $400,000; anything under that would be covered by the state with the village having to pay anything that exceeded the maximum.

He told council that, while the commission was willing to help with the project, he warned that this would take a long time and that they should make sure they were fully behind doing it. If they’re not, he says it’s probably not worth pursuing.

“I spoke with ODOT about some of the discussions some folks in the village have had about Safe Routes to School. Essentially what I have are a few boilerplate facts we need to consider,” he said.

These include having a school travel plan that would identify infrastructure improvement that could be made that would affect walking to the local schools. Once adopted, they become eligible to apply for grants.

Blanchester already has one they’ve adopted, according to him. They would also need to get an engineer’s estimate. He advised them to try to keep it the budget under $300,000.

With the project application deadline on March 4, council was advised to make a decision as soon as possible.

Among the potential projects recommended include creating sidewalks around Putman Elementary School streets or multi-phase project from Columbus Street to the Middle/High School on Cherry Street.

He added that additional benefits help the grant application — for example, highlighting that residents on Cherry Street could use the sidewalk to walk to stores and business safely.

Councilmember Reilly Hopkins asked if there was an estimated radius length for the project. Stuckert told him two miles was the estimate.

Stuckert advised they were looking into doing similar projects with other villages in the county.

“Sabina has already applied for a couple of these before,” said Stuckert.

The most recent project related to this in Clinton County was for Truesdell Street near Holmes Elementary School in Wilmington.

Mayor John Carman and council members expressed interest in the project and stated they would contact Stuckert soon about it after they “get their ducks in a row,” as councilmember Cindy Sutton put it.

Also during council:

• Carman told the council they had three letters of interest for the vacant seat on council previous held by Lori Byrom. The letters were from Dick Simpson, Bob Morgan and James Constable. Morgan has taken out a petition to run for council this year and Constable has taken out a petition to run for mayor. Byrom had resigned on Dec. 31 due to moving out of Blanchester.

By John Hamilton