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Baltimore clears hurdle for school travel plan

BALTIMORE – A program for Baltimore school children is one step closer to reality.

Baltimore Village Administrator Marsha Hall said the Ohio Department of Transportation approved the Safe Route to School Travel Plan. Hall, Baltimore Police Chief Mike Tussey, Liberty Union-Thurston School Board President Art Brate and Superintendent Paul Mathews developed the plan, which encourages elementary and middle school students to walk or bike to school. ODOT’s approval of the travel plan allows Baltimore to submit an infrastructure application for funding.

“We should know if the application was accepted by March, 2011,” said Hall. Baltimore received a grant from ODOT to draft the plan which is required if funding is sought for infrastructure improvements. The plan included an engineering study, which ODOT conducted and funded. Hall said ODOT usually funds 90 percent of these projects, but can fund at 100 percent for smaller communities who are unable to pay a local share. “We have asked them to pay 100 percent,” she said.

According to the ODOT application, virtually all Liberty Union elementary and middle school students are forced to ride school buses or be transported in private vehicles to and from school because of a lack of pedestrian and bike paths to the elementary and middle school site.

The proposed Safe Route to School project would provide safe access to the site and encourage pedestrian and bicycle travel. The safe access is vitally necessary because the schools are located on Ohio158, a heavily traveled state highway that runs through Baltimore.

“Currently, there is no real access to the elementary school and site of the new middle school for walking or riding bicycles,” said Mathews. “The fact that the school property is on a state route is an issue for safe travel.” Mathews said there are future plans for additional athletic fields at this location, and a land laboratory with wetlands, stream, outdoor classroom, and a walking path through the woods is on the site.

“Sidewalks and bike paths open up so many possibilities for student and community use of the property, it is exciting to see that the Safe Routes to School grant program could make it all a reality,” said Mathews.

His understanding is that sidewalks and other construction would be prioritized, and not everything would be completed in a single year. “But it would be great to know that in two or three years there would be far greater access,” said Mathews.

Hall said if the entire project is approved, it must be awarded to contractors within two years after notification. Her timeline indicates that the contract would be awarded in January 2012, with construction to begin in early spring, 2012.

The project proposes a 4,200 foot, six foot wide bicycle and walking path; 1,100 feet of five feet wide sidewalks; curb ramps and associated materials; flashing beacons with infrared pedestrian detectors; flashing beacons with a support beam and mast arm; and repainting the Ohio 158 crosswalk.

Other recommendations include walking programs, walkto school days, safety towns, bike rodeos, and additional police patrols.

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