The city of Waco secured a federal grant for pedestrian improvements in the area of J.H. Hines Elementary School, where many students walk to and from class on outdated sidewalks, according to city staff.

Waco submitted applications for funding under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program last summer. Last month, the Texas Transportation Commission announced Waco’s J.H. Hines program was selected for funding, making the city one of 12 municipalities in Texas to receive a grant out of more than 250 applications.

Waco’s Capital Programs Manager Jim Reed said the $757,000 project will entail widening sidewalks around J.H. Hines elementary, as well as Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant updates and making improvements to drainage, curbs and gutters. Applications for improvements at Cesar Chavez Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School were not funded.

“The nice thing is about J.H. Hines is that we have so much design work around Elm Avenue, that this just complements that work we’re doing,” Reed said.

The Safe Routes to School program is meant to make walking to school safer for kids attending kindergarten through eighth grade. The grant also funds educational programming at the elementary school to teach the students basic pedestrian safety.

“J.H. Hines is in an older neighborhood and there’s a lot of kids who walk,” Reed said. “We’re trying to get them into a safer environment to get to and from school.”

He said a lot of students walk from the school to nearby churches, East Waco Library, Doris Miller Family YMCA , or toward Waco Drive and nearby restaurants once they’re dismissed from school, but often wind up walking in the street because of the narrow sidewalks.

“We think that’s a great neighborhood to start improving walkability in,” Reed said.

The city of Waco has been awarded similar grants before, for improvements around West Avenue Elementary School in 2007 and Carver Middle School in 2001.

“It will be similar to those efforts,” Reed said. “Both of them were used to create safer, more usable paths.”

In April, the Texas Department of Transportation will announce the funding recipients from the Transportation Alternative Set-Aside program. The City of Waco submitted three possible projects for the funding, including a long-discussed plan to convert an old MKT railroad line into a pedestrian trail.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” Reed said. “There’s just not a lot of money at the federal level anymore.”

Reed said the city the project will likely go out to bid in roughly 10 months.

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