Walkways connect neighborhoods and facilities to area schools

Since 2012, the Georgetown Transportation Department has started or continued construction on 10 sidewalk projects throughout the city, several of which are intended to provide safer routes for children walking to or from school.

Construction began in July on a 4,300-foot-long sidewalk to serve students who walk to and from Mitchell Elementary School from the Churchill Farms neighborhood. Transportation Engineer Bill Dryden said the sidewalk may be completed by mid-December.

A $430,000 federal grant through the Safe Routes to School program, which the city applied for in 2007, covered construction costs for the sidewalk. The city of Georgetown paid for the design of the project.

"That long [of] a sidewalk and working under requirements of the grant takes more engineering and construction," Dryden said, noting obstacles such as radio towers and drainage ditches the sidewalk had to avoid.

Other schools were considered to benefit from the SRTS grant, but Mitchell Elementary was selected because of the amount of children who attend the school and live in the Churchill Farms area but have no sidewalk to use, Georgetown Transportation Services Manager Mark Miller said.

"For every kid that walks, we reduce [the number of] cars and buses," Miller said. "[It also] increases physical activity [for students]."

Georgetown ISD spokesman Brad Domitrovich said the sidewalk will be an important safety addition to the school.

"Currently, if students do walk or ride their bike to school, it has to be done on the shoulder of the road, which is very busy with traffic," Domitrovich said in a statement. "This new sidewalk is set back from the highway, which will allow students to walk safely to the campus. It is also wide enough to handle bike riding and can be used on weekends by families in the neighborhood [who] use the school fields and other equipment."

Design plans are also being drafted for a project to fill in gaps in sidewalks between the Georgetown Recreation Center and Georgetown High School.

"We're going to provide a place off the edge of the pavement [of the street] for students and citizens to walk Austin Avenue," Dryden said.

Funding for the Austin Avenue sidewalks will be distributed through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization with funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Surface Transportation Program–Metropolitan Mobility.

Dryden said the planning for the project was 90 percent complete in early November, and he expects to seek construction bids in March 2014. Once the construction company is approved by City Council, the sidewalks could take about six months to complete, he said.

The transportation department also has two sidewalk projects pending design with funding from the Community Development Block Grant program and four sidewalk projects pending design funded by the city.