BILLINGS — The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the city of Billings a $3.56 million grant meant to increase the safety of kids when traveling to school.
It’s good news for Billings resident Angel Peterson who passes by Newman Elementary in what she calls a stressful commute on her way to work every day.
“I’m scared someone’s just not going to look at the crosswalks and just go on full speed. It’s a little scary for the kids mainly,” said Peterson.
Some Billings families know those dangers all too well. Two kids were hit in separate incidents just last year, one while biking to Poly Elementary and the other walking to Will James Middle School.
The city has a plan, however, and now the money to put it into action.
“The approach we took to our grant application was applying for Safe Route to School projects, so it’s projects that are helping kids get to school more safely,” said Elyse Monat, the city’s Active Transportation Planner.
In a collaboration between City Planning and Public Works, 17 Safe Route to School projects will focus on 22 elementary schools that were identified as having higher crash rates in the area.
“Part of the grant, 85% of it, is to be allocated to underserved and lower-income communities,” said Dakota Martonen, an engineer with Public Works.
Eight schools will get high-visibility crosswalks; those are Burlington, Central Heights, Highland, McKinley, Miles Avenue, Orchard, Sandstone, and Washington.
Students at Bench will be able to utilize sidewalk connections at Rex Lane and Lola Lane.
Both Boulder and Burlington will get curb extensions.
“Curb extensions, they help to bring the curb into the street further. It gives pedestrians and drivers better visibility of each other and it also shortens the crossing distance,” Martonen said.
Ten elementary schools will have access to six new bike facilities in their neighborhoods. Those schools are Highland, Washington, Lewis-Clark, Poly Drive, Miles Avenue, Meadowlark, Parkhill, Big Sky, Central Heights, and McKinley.
“There will be traffic calming, there will be bikeway improvements for kids who want to bike to school,” said Monat.
Ponderosa students will now benefit from pedestrian lighting after dark. It’ll take some time to implement these changes.
“The grant approval process and signing will take about a year. And then after that we’ll have to go through a design phase through some of these projects. And then ultimately construction. I think after the grants awarded there’s five years to be able to construct the projects,” Martonen said.
To Peterson, the wait for the changes is worth it.
“I think it definitely eases my mind that they’re doing something about it,” said Peterson.
She can rest easy, as the city said Newman Elementary is on their radar with a couple of proposed safety projects in the future.
“I would feel very hurt if I see news about some children getting hurt,” Peterson said.