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County report identifies school route concerns

Revealing the problems is first step toward figuring out how to pay for improvements

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Students, along with some parents, make their way to Oak Hills Elementary School last fall during International Walk to School Day.Washington County officials recently released a study revealing safety concerns with routes students use to get to school.

Two-thirds of the schools with routes that could use improvements — 35 of the 53 campuses identified countywide — are in the Beaverton School District.

The study, presented to the county Board of Commissioners on March 15, details the lack of sidewalks, safer street crossings and other potential improvements.

What it doesn't do is identify where the millions upon millions of dollars it would take to pay for those types of improvements at 53 schools in Beaverton, Tigard, Hillsboro, Sherwood and other areas within the county.

But that's part of the point of this study, which is part of the county's Safe Routes to School Program.

"This study allows us to create a road map for how to address these barriers," Andrew Singelakis, director of the Washington County Department of Land Use & Transportation, said in a news release. "From here, we need to identify funding sources, how to prioritize projects and how to implement them."

The county started its Safe Routes to School program in 2013 with a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation's Transportation Safety Division. The national initiative brings transportation, community and education leaders together to encourage children to walk and bike safely to school as part of a healthy daily routine.

Traffic safety improvements identified in the study vary by school and include sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalk enhancements and trails. Possible funding sources may include Gain Share allocations from large corporate tax deals, the county's Urban Road Maintenance District safety funds, and grants and levies.

"Many schools are in older neighborhoods built before sidewalks were required," Singelakis said. "As a result, the costs of improvements are higher at some schools than others. We need to be clear: we're focusing on safety. Our concern is making sure that all students have equally safe routes to school."

How projects are prioritized is under review and will include input from others.

"Traffic infrastructure is just one piece of Safe Routes to School," he said. "Safe Routes to School is about education and encouragement, which requires the involvement of educators, community organizations and parents to be successful."

Read the full report here