Community collaboration creates new, safer travel
Kay Jones looks across the American Falls High School campus at a half-mile ribbon of black and can testify about the importance of collaboration.
The 10-foot-wide asphalt path connects the high school with Teton Street at the American Falls city limit. It is the product of multiple jurisdictions – including ITD’s District 5 – that were determined to eliminate what had been long recognized as a threat to student safety.
“We had kids walking along the side of the two-lane highway during harvest time with trucks passing by at 45 miles an hour. It just was not safe. Everybody was anxious to get the kids off the road,” said Jones, the school district’s curriculum director.
Even members of the high school cross-country team used a portion of the highway’s narrow shoulders for training. The mix of students and commercial traffic an arm’s length away suggested a tragic accident was only a matter of time.
Constructing a bike/pedestrian path that was removed from the highway had been a priority for the school district since opening the new school in 2002, Jones said. But for a variety of planning and logistics reasons, the path was never tackled. Efforts to secure transportation enhancement funds proved unfruitful several times.
“Over the years, the issue of pedestrian/student safety has come up,” explains District 5 assistant district engineer Blake Rindlisbacher. “Each time the answer seemed to lie in the enhancement program. The last time their application was not accepted, the city and school district were ready to throw their hands in the air…”
The project languished on the lists of individual jurisdictions until the Power County Transportation Coalition met last spring. Led by ITD District 5 Engineer Ed Bala, members began looking for ways of overcoming obstacles.
“Ed was the reason we could get past all of the reasons for not getting it done,” Jones said.
She also credits ITD’s Evan Snow who works in the American Falls area, Ron Anderson of the city of American Falls, Don Haskin of the Power County Highway District, school administrators and many others for bringing the project to fruition.
ITD staff surveyed the Interstate 86 Business Loop and determined there was enough room in the right-of-way to include a path that was separated from traffic. Bala agreed that ITD could provide hot mix (asphalt estimated value of almost $25,000) for the path if the school district would help coordinate the project.
Momentum began building.
Ground was turned on Sept. 27.
Fire hydrants, water valves, irrigation structures, a telephone box and a power pole were moved to accommodate the path. Culverts in the right-of-way were extended. The city of American Falls graded the 2,600-foot long path and provided fill dirt and base material. The Power County Highway District hauled material, provided equipment and did the paving.
More than 20 people were directly involved in project, including seven from ITD, two from the school district, nine from the highway district and three from the city, according to Rindlisbacher. It required about 450 tons of asphalt, 600 tons of base aggregate and about 300 cubic yards of fill material.
One month later, in the high school parking lot, participants came together and proclaimed the project finished… and that it was good. The ribbon-cutting ceremony formally opened the new path on Oct. 26.
For the past two weeks, students, teachers and area residents have migrated back and forth, a safe distance from highway traffic. The true impact may not be recognized until next spring when weather warms and recreational use picks up, Jones said.
The path will connect with a sidewalk project that extends to Hillcrest Elementary School, undertaken as part of the state’s new Safe Routes to School initiative. Another grant request, if approved, will extend the sidewalk beyond the elementary school. Eventually, it could become the backbone of a citywide recreational route.
Construction of the first segment truly was a group effort, Jones explains.
“We couldn’t have built the path without a lot of cooperation. It just wouldn’t have happened if everybody hadn’t come together. It is more valuable than all of the pieces put together… greater than the sum of the parts,” she said.