HARRISONBURG — After years of planning, the Spotswood Elementary Safe Routes to School Project is near completion.
The project, once completed, will have new sidewalks on the east side of Reservoir Street between Hawkins and Kenmore streets, a new crosswalk at the intersection of Norwood Street and two “caution school zone” signs with flashing lights and a new crosswalk with a “rectangular rapid flash beacon” signal at the intersection of Norwood Street.
The sign will flash bright orange lights when the crosswalk button is pressed and is one of the first “passive detection” pieces of equipment ever to be installed in the city, according to Harrisonburg Public Works Planning Manager Erin Yancey.
“The project will allow children that live on [the] neighborhood street along Reservoir Street to more safely walk to Spotswood Elementary School,” Yancey said. “It also connects these neighborhoods to Carlton Street, where there is a variety of commercial establishments that people use for daily needs, such as the grocery store, bank, restaurants, etc.”
The project came about through communication between the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the City Schools Eric King and the Public Works Department because of the lack of safe facilities for kids to be able to walk to school.
The Safe Routes to School is a national program promoting walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education and incentives to encourage walking and bicycling to school, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The planning began in 2015 and in December 2016, the City Council gave the financial green light to apply for a Safe Routes to School grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The approved grant funded up to 80% of the project with a 20% match by the city.
Yancey said the funding available for the project is $199,752.
“We don’t have the final bills tallied yet, since it’s not quite complete, but it will be less than that amount when complete,” Yancey said.
The project construction began on June 11 and is expected to be completed on Sept. 20.
Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent Michael Richards said the project is important because it encourages children to walk and bike to school by making routes to school safer and more appealing.
“This improves student health and well-being while also reducing traffic, air pollution and fuel consumption,” Richards said.
Yancey said there are still a few things left to be done, including tree trimming, installing the crosswalk signs with flashing lights, the school zone signs and the orange detection lights that appear when the crosswalk button is pressed.
City staff just installed the detection lights on Liberty Street for the Northend Greenway crossing and will be observing to see if the system works well.
“We have observed at other locations that pedestrians don’t often push the buttons that activate the flashing lights on pedestrian signs,” Yancey said.