Caltrans approves $24m in Safe Routes to School money

Caltrans has announced awarding $24.2 million for this year's Safe Routes to School program that will provide support for 85 projects statewide.

The safe route program, which has an international following, looks to increase the number of children who walk or ride a bike to school by removing barriers or unsafe infrastructure.

California, which was the first state to adopt safe route principals in 1999, provides ongoing funding for schools to participate from the State Highway Account. This year's allocation was approved as part of the 2010-11 budget agreement struck earlier this month.

Typical projects are signals, sidewalks or crosswalks," said Yin-Ping Li, chief of Caltrans Office of Bridge and Safety Programs. "It all depends on what the school needs are and what the school routes are."

Under legislation updated in 2007, the Department of Transportation, in consultation with the California Highway Patrol, to make grants available to local governmental agencies under the program based upon the results of a statewide competition.

The latest round of funding included close to a half-million dollars for a long list of projects including $450,000 to realign intersections and install sidewalks near Point Arena High School; $499,000 for new crosswalks, speed tables and bulb-outs and curbs near Lincoln Elementary in Glendale; and $421,000 for the construction of curbs, gutters and sidewalks near San Diego's Lakeview Elementary.

Li said many of the projects can take as long as four years to complete from beginning to end.

The next funding opportunity for schools is likely to be in the spring and districts will note that a 10 percent match is required.

Part of the impetus for the program comes from public health concerns. The state reports that in the 1980s, 60 percent of the children living within a 2-mile radius of schools nationally walked or rode a bike to school. Today, that number is closer to 15 percent.

Meanwhile, the percentage of children considered overweight or obese has skyrocketed from 5 percent in 1980 to 20 percent today. Those numbers have also translated into climbing rates of a variety of childhood disease as well as eventual health care problems for those children when they become adults.

The Safe Routes to School Program was established to help reverse these trends by funding projects that improve safety and efforts that promote walking and bicycling within a collaborative community framework.

For see the list of approved projects visit: more