NILES — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks announced funding awards of more than $9.8 million Thursday, including $250,000 Niles, for projects that will improve safety for students walking and biking to school.
The funds come as part of ODOT’s Safe Routes to School Program. According to a news release, the program provides funding for infrastructure such as new sidewalks and path extensions, crosswalks and rapid flashing beacons, bike lanes and other safety measures around schools throughout the state.
In Niles, city officials plan to use the grant funding for sidewalk replacements on John Street, which many students travel to get to the school, as well as installing updated Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps at locations throughout the route.
“This is the city’s first-ever Safe Routes to School grant,” Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz said. “You cannot be eligible unless you have a school transportation plan or a city active transportation plan. When we created our city active transportation plan in 2021, we knew it would open up a pot of money, such as Safe Routes to School, to address infrastructure deficiencies in and around the schools.”
Mientkiewicz said several sections of the sidewalk on John Street need repaired. He said parts of the sidewalk are old and cracked, and have a number of significant gaps. The city felt upgrades to that sidewalk would be worthy of a request for funding.
“We felt that the John Street sidewalk project would be a good fit due to the proximity of the intermediate school to the high school,” he said. “A lot of students grades 3 through 12 who attend both of those schools live in that area, walk in that area, bike in that area, and we realized the need to provide updated infrastructure.”
Mientkiewicz said few, if any, of the curb ramps along the John Street sidewalk are ADA compliant. He said the lack of ADA ramps helped the city when it came to grant scoring. The current ramps along the route will be updated.
Niles initially applied for $400,000. Mientkiewicz said moving into the next budget cycle, the city will be funding the final $150,000 needed to complete the project.
Mientkiewicz said the city is not sure if the funds from the state will become available this year or during 2024.
“We do want to get this project moving and completed as soon as we can to provide this basically liable infrastructure, not only to our residents, but most importantly to our students who do travel along that route,” Mientkiewicz said.
Niles was the only Trumbull County municipality to receive a grant through the program.
Forty-five projects were selected by experts from ODOT, the Ohio Department of Health and other local entities, according to the news release.
“I’m encouraged to see the increasing interest in active transportation across our state and proud of our efforts to make it safer to walk or ride a bike,” ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks stated in the release. “However, these safety improvements aren’t as effective if drivers aren’t paying attention, driving the speed limit and being extra alert for young children especially around schools during school hours.”
The program has provided over $75 million to schools, municipalities, health districts, park districts and key nonprofit partners to improve safety for students since its inception in 2005, according to the release.
This year’s $9.8 million in awards is the most funding provided as part of the program in a single year.
“Walking and biking is a healthy way for children to get to and from school, but we must ensure each student can do so safely. This program provides that opportunity,” DeWine stated in the release.
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