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Dassel applies for Safe Routes to School grant
JUNE 13, 2011
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Project would address sidewalks, crossings, and signing near school

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, MN – Dassel Elementary students will be walking to school much more safely in the coming years if the City of Dassel is awarded a Safe Route to School grant through the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The grant would allow the city to construct new and additional sidewalks, crosswalks, as well as add pedestrian signing around the school.

Engineer Eric Lembke of Bonestroo presented to both the City of Dassel and Meeker County Board of Commissioners last week regarding an application for this grant program.

Since the City of Dassel is below 5,000 in population, it needs the county to administer the grant, which was approved by resolution at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

Lembke addressed several safety concerns surrounding the elementary school and ways to alleviate the hazards through the construction of sidewalk and pedestrian ramps, as well as adding new pedestrian warning signs and striping.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation website, the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program was signed into law August, 2005. This provided state DOTs with five federal fiscal years (2005-’09) of funding for the SRTS program. Additional funds were provided in 2010.

Lembke told the Dassel City Council that there was $4.2 to 4.5 million in program funding and speculates it will be split between metro area schools and those in greater Minnesota.

The SRTS program provides communities with the opportunity to improve the built environment and promote bicycling and walking to school with infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects. The goals of the program are:

• to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school;

• to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age; and

• to facilitate the planning, development, and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.

Problem areas identified

Lembke, with the help of Dassel Elementary Principal Deb Morris identified the problem areas which included missing segments of sidewalks and lack of pedestrian crosswalks.

He presented a figure with areas that could be addressed if grant money is received.

Some of the solutions included continuing the existing regional trail on County Road 4 south to the school, with an 8-foot-wide bituminous sidewalk. This trail currently ends at Lake Street, but is connected by a more narrow sidewalk.

Sidewalk surrounding the school would also be replaced or repaired and curb ramps added at each of the crosswalks that are compliant with the American Disability Act.

There would also be sidewalks added on Guy Street and William Avenue on the block of Breeds Park.

These additional sidewalks and ramps would provide continuity for users from the regional trail system between County Road 4 to the trail on Highway 12.

The proposed project, estimated at roughly $200,000, would also provide improved signing with LED flashing lights at pedestrian crossings and school zone speed limit signs on the north and south side of County Road 4.

Morris indicated that the biggest problem the school has is with traffic along William Avenue and County Road 4.

The signs would help slow traffic before and after school when there is increased pedestrian traffic.

The lack of adequate sidewalks near the school has been a safety issue, particularly east on William Avenue, Morris said.

There, the school patrol crosses students, but the students have to walk on the street since there isn’t sidewalks on either side, she explained.

“It’s a really exciting venture to be a part of,” Morris said. She expressed gratitude to the city in its combined effort with the school last year to establish a designated pick-up and drop-off zone, eliminating possible hazards for students.

This project would add to that by making sure the routes directly leading into school could be safe for students who choose to walk or bike to school, Morris said.

It will likely take about two months for a response on whether or not the city will be awarded the grant. If it does, the county will administer the grant and the city would oversee the construction through Bonestroo.

Construction would begin around this time next year and completed before the school year starts in 2012.

Lembke also noted that since its a federal project, the process is quite cumbersome and will include a pre-construction survey, as well as a survey when construction is complete.

It was also noted that there will be no cost to the city and the cost of engineering would be covered by the grant.

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