Walking to school will be considerably safer for students of Crozet Elementary next year.

According to Albemarle County transportation engineer Jack Kelsey, designs for a crosswalk and 600 feet of new sidewalks near the school are nearly completed.

“Currently, it’s being designed by Anhold and Associates,” Kelsey said. “I anticipate that the designs will be finished in December and it will go to bid late winter, early spring.”

The plan was funded entirely by a $190,000 grant from the Safe Routes to School Project, Kelsey said. The 600 feet of sidewalk will lead from Crozet Elementary to Ballard Drive in the Laurel Hills subdivision and will connect to the county-funded Crozet North sidewalk project, which will be built sometime after the grant-funded walkway.

The project will include a crosswalk in front of Crozet Elementary.

“The pedestrian crossing that we’ll be putting in will be what’s called a cross alert system ... where it’s got the flashing lights on either side of the road,” Kelsey said.

The grant was originally awarded in the spring of last year, but has taken time to get off the ground because of new Virginia Department of Transportation rules, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said.

“Jack Kelsey has had a very extended process as compared to years past, dealing with new VDOT regulations,” Mallek said. “Everything over $5,000 now requires a [request for proposals], but Jack was able to rescue it from that process.”

Despite the slowdowns, Mallek said, the project has wide community support in tight-knit Crozet.

“The Crozet master plan has always been very supportive of walkers and people getting out and enjoying their community in a way other than a car,” she said.

Mallek said the community support for walking helped Crozet get the grant to build the sidewalks in the first place.

“There’s been a long history of walking to school in the community of Crozet, which is why they got the grant as opposed to some other places, which were not as supportive,” she said.

Crozet Elementary parent-teacher organization secretary Sandra Creighton said she is excited to see the community facilitate walking.

“I think it’s a really positive thing. I would encourage anybody that can walk to do it,” she said. “It’s a good way to meet other parents and students from other grade levels.”

Creighton, whose house is outside of walking distance to the school, said she thinks the route will be safe.

“I think if they make the walking paths enough off the road, it would really be an anomaly to see a kid get hit by a car,” she said. “This community invites walking, it invites a very outdoor environment.”

Mallek said that although the School Board has no official policy about walking, the activity is encouraged.

“There was some strong encouragement that this was a wonderful activity for children and families,” Mallek said.

Mallek said she hopes the Crozet initiative will inspire schools in other parts of the county to make walking easier, but said the issue should be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

“Every circumstance is unique as far as the individual school,” she said. “I do know that Crozet was chosen as the first one because we had a pre-existing interest on the part of the school administration and the community there.”

Mallek added that the county is taking steps to make non-car travel easier everywhere.

“When new roads are built and new subdivisions are built, it’s a given that there will be sidewalks and bike lanes now,” she said. “I do hope that this will be a good example and let others know that this is a good way to get out in the community.”

So far, the project is on track to make its budget, Kelsey said.

“Safe Routes to School construction cost is estimated at $147,000, so that’s all good, but we need to get the right-of-way bought,” he said. “We anticipate the project will cost $190,000, which was the award of the grant.”

For Creighton, the prospect of easier foot travel is an exciting one, even if her own children won’t be able to take advantage of it.

“I would encourage people who are a mile away to do it, especially as the weather gets cooler, it’s much more inviting to be outside,” she said. “I think it’s positive for the kids, because kids don’t get outside much these days.”

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