ODOT announced this month that the state agency has denied Oregon City's application for about $1.3 million in Safe Routes to School funding to construct sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks near Holcomb Elementary.
Oregon City's proposed project would have constructed bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, illumination and four rectangular rapid flashing beacons along Holcomb Boulevard between Front Street and Winston Drive. City officials proposed providing a 20% match, about $336,000, for a total project costing nearly $1.7 million.
Meanwhile, Clackamas County is receiving a $1.97 million Safe Routes grant from ODOT to construct sidewalks, buffered bike lanes, lighting, ramps and a center pedestrian refuge island in urban unincorporated Clackamas.
Contruction will be designed to increase safety for students walking via Clackamas and Webster roads to Bilquist Elementary School, where more than 50% of the school's approximately 450 students are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. About 45% of Holcomb's 550 students are eligible for the program.
Also not funded: $2 million for sidewalks near Milwaukie El Puente Elementary School and about $642,000 for new flashing beacons at Rowe Middle School in Milwaukie.
Oregon City School District and the Park Place Neighborhood Association worked with city officials on the ODOT Safe Routes application. They told ODOT officials that the Holcomb thoroughfare is currently unsafe for students to walk to school, even those who live within a one-mile radius.
Bilquist Principal Charles Foote for years has been a vocal proponent since 2018 for safety improvements near the school.
"It can be a little nerve-racking at times," Foote said in 2018. "It's just one of the symptoms of there being more and more traffic in our areas. The use of Webster Road as an arterial has really increased, and the number of people we see really speed through the school zone is concerning."
On Dec. 1, ODOT approved $28.3 million in Safe Routes to School investments. Altogether, 43 construction projects are receiving grants after the Oregon Transportation Commission approved the recommendations.
Bilquist was the only Clackamas County project approved out of 99 Safe Routes to School applications to address barriers to students walking and biking.
"The awarded funds will focus on Title I (low-income) schools and, of course, locations with the greatest safety needs," said LeeAnne Fergason, ODOT program manager.
Clackamas County is expected to sign an agreement with ODOT in January to receive funds for the Bilquist project, which will have to be completed by 2026.
Foote is a former principal at Clackamas Elementary School, a 1948 building that was slated for closure in 2012, in part because it had become sandwiched between busy thoroughfares like Interstate 205 (constructed in 1975) and 82nd Drive.
Although they have some added danger, kids walking or biking to school score major health benefits and have much lower rates of diabetes, studies show. Over the past 20 years, the rate of children 19 and under who have been killed while walking has decreased. But recent years have seen a 13% increase in the death rate for 12-19 year olds.
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