Board commits funding for two years of Safe Routes to School projects

Some routes to school will become safer for bicyclists and pedestrians as a result of a commitment of additional Safe Routes to School funding approved last week by the Idaho Transportation Board.

Board members approved $948,000 for improvements when they met July 21 at the District 6 office in Rigby. The budget action covers projects planned for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

The federally funded Safe Routes to School program encourages and enables children in grades K-8 to walk and bicycle to school. The goal is to make bicycling and walking to school a safer transportation option and to facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution within a two-mile radius of K-8 grade schools.

The board committed $948,000 for both fiscal years. Some of the projects recommended for funding in FY12 include sidewalks in Driggs, Kooskia, Middleton and Wilder, and educational efforts to promote walking to school in Nampa, Menan and Moscow.

The popularity of the program is evident by the number of project applications – 20 were submitted for FY12, requesting more than $1.3 million in funding.

Other board discussion

District 6 report
District 6 staff reported on District 6 activities over the past year.

The district committed to delivering 16 projects, but actually exceeded that number by four, completing 20, according to District 6 Engineer Blake Rindlisbacher. In an effort to put more focus on operations, an Operations Engineer position was created, to oversee maintenance and traffic issues, such as speed limits and access.

Using GIS (geographic information systems), District 6 staff developed a proposal to clear trees along U.S 20 in Island Park to reduce winter driving hazards. By thinning tree stands, some stretches of the highway now receive four more hours of sunlight, which helps eliminate ice and improve safety for travelers. The district worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service on the project.

The district promotes partnerships. The Idaho National Laboratory provides funding for four part-time employees to ensure U.S. 20 west of Idaho Falls remains open in winter and to improve the winter driving conditions. Agreements are in place with six of the nine county sheriffs in District 6 to assist with enforcing road closures, most of which result from blowing dust or snow snow.

District 6 tour
The board’s District 6 tour started on Thursday (July 22) with a joint meeting with the Aeronautics Advisory Board (AAB).

AAB board member Chip Kemper provided an overview on his business, Queen Bee Air Specialties in Rigby, a diversified aviation company. Some of the services it provides include aerial firefighting, air tractor sales and service, flight training, and response to oil spills, including the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

The board met with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) officials and several legislators to discuss U.S. 20 west of Idaho Falls. INL officials emphasized that safety of its employees is its highest priority. Not only is safety a focus at the site, but also that emphasis extends to employees commuting to and from the site.

The district identified projects that will address some of INL’s safety concerns on U.S. 20, including pavement rehabilitation, snow fences and turn bays. One official noted the value of the cameras as part of the Road Weather Information System and suggested installing an additional camera.

The board also heard about the bus service INL provides to its employees. The buses have provided a safe and efficient transportation option for 33 years. There are 75 buses on the road each day, logging 3.4 million miles annually. Buses transport about 2,100 passengers daily from Mackay, Rigby, Pocatello and other locations. Approximately $18 million is dedicated to the bus service annually.

Published 7-30-2010