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Federal grants give boost to sidewalk plans
Gainesville receives $500,000 to make areas around schools more pedestrian-friendly
Jill Robinson, right, walks daughter Vivian, 8, and son Hank, 10, home Tuesday from Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy. The Gainesville school board recently received funding from the federal Safe Routes to School program to build more sidewalks near city schools. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

These projects will be under way in Gainesville:

Downey Boulevard: from Hamilton Place to Sherwood Park Drive

Race Street: from Jesse Jewell Parkway to College Avenue

Hazel Street: from 1095 Hazel St. to Central Avenue

Myrtle Street: from Auburn to Central avenues

Park Hill Drive: from South Enota Drive to Roper Hill Road

Park Street: from 819 Park St. to Park Street Place; from Park Street Place to Sherwood Plaza

College Avenue: from Prior to Fortson streets

Woods Mill Road: from 471 Woods Mill Road to Elephant Trail

Ridgewood Avenue: from 733 Ridgewood Ave. to Wilshire Road

John Morrow Parkway: from Jesse Jewell Parkway to Washington Street

Thanks to $500,000 in promised federal funding, Gainesville’s annual sidewalk expansion program has a leg to walk on around city schools.

City streets around Fair Street, New Holland and Centennial elementary schools will become more pedestrian-friendly with the half-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program.

The Gainesville grant is part of $5.7 million in federal funding distributed to one school system in each of the 13 congressional districts across the state.

The Hall County school system also applied for the funding to build sidewalks to Flowery Branch Elementary School, but did not receive it.

Facing declining revenues, Gainesville officials had suspended the city’s "master plan" to add more sidewalks this year, Public Works Director David Dockery said. But the funding, awarded through the state Department of Transportation, will mean that the city still will be able to improve its sidewalk connectivity in spite of the economy.

"We’re very fortunate to receive this funding," Dockery said. "I think it will supplement and enhance the sidewalk connectivity we have around the city."

With the money, about 12,000 feet of sidewalks will be laid on sections of 11 streets around city elementary schools, Dockery said.

The purpose of the Safe Routes to School program is to enhance walking and bicycling facilities around elementary and middle schools. Other projects that were approved include the installation of crosswalks, bike paths, signs and other traffic features, according to a news release.

Merrianne Dyer, superintendent for the Gainesville school system, said the sidewalks especially are needed around pedestrian-heavy schools such as Fair Street where 200 of 660 students walk home from school.

"Fair Street has always been the most pedestrian school," Dyer said.

Dyer said the year-old Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center and the recently opened Gainesville Middle School also will increase pedestrian traffic on Jesse Jewell Parkway. Some of the expansions funded by the grant include expansions on Jesse Jewell Boulevard, Downey Boulevard and other streets that intersect with Jesse Jewell Parkway, Dockery said.

"It’s really nice now we’re going to have sidewalks down there, and be able to walk between all those schools," Dyer said. "And then we have the light across the street, and that will make it much more accessible for families to walk down to the Frances Meadows center from all those schools."

The state DOT will be responsible for designing and finding contractors to complete the sidewalk projects, and once they are installed, city Public Works crews will maintain them, Dockery said.

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