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Auburn plans new sidewalk to E.V. Cain

Safe Routes to School grants fund national initiative to trade road traffic for foot traffic
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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A national program encouraging children to walk or bike to school will bear fruit in Auburn this fall, as the city moves forward with a grant-funded sidewalk on Palm Avenue from Nevada Street to E.V. Cain STEM Charter Middle School.

Approximately $900,000 of the project’s estimated $1.4 million price tag will come from Safe Routes to School, a federal grant initiative administered by the state to reduce traffic and air pollution near schools. A Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant of about $102,000, together with money from city transportation and Highway 49 traffic mitigation funds, will make up the rest.

Auburn Director of Public Works Bernie Schroeder said the city finished right-of-way and utilities certifications over the past few weeks for the 1,300-foot sidewalk, but she is still waiting for state approval on environmental assessments and easements from nearby property owners. But after years of delay since the grant approval in 2008, the project is approaching reality – Schroeder expects the city to advertise for bids by the end of September and break ground in early November, with a likely completion date next spring or summer.

“We’re going to try to stage the project so that it has the least amount of impact on the school,” she said. “It will start from the frontage road area on Palm Avenue just west of Highway 49. There’s a little shopping center where the sidewalk is, and we’ll pick that up, and it will go all the way to Nevada Street at Mount Vernon (Road).”

The new sidewalk will be 8 feet wide, including a bike lane, and Palm Avenue will be expanded to two 12-foot lanes.

Matt Rocco, a spokesman for Caltrans, said the project is a perfect example of what Safe Routes to School is all about. He said Caltran distributes about $24 million of state funding and up to $25 million federal funding every year through the program, which considers any proposal to make a walking route safer and more viable for students to walk or bike.

“It’s kind of three-pronged: safety, environmental and the health benefit,” Rocco said. “It could be putting up a stop sign, it could be a signal, et cetera.”

Schroeder said the initiative has funded several city projects over the past few years, including a new sidewalk in a heavily residential area on Maidu Drive to Skyridge Elementary School and another on Lincoln Way near Alta Vista Elementary School. She said Palm Avenue was another logical candidate, after a preliminary study in 2007 found that 30 percent of E.V. Cain’s 846 students either walked or biked to school, but another 20 percent might do so with a usable sidewalk from nearby apartments.

“It’s determined based on, when we applied for the grant, a quantifiable number of students that would benefit,” Schroeder said. “So the school district wrote us a letter of support, and the police department wrote us a letter of support.”

Monica Williams, business officer for Auburn Union School District, said the city has had full support from the district for years.

“We support it, obviously. It will be on a strip of land that we always had agreed to sell to the city, and also have agreed to give them an easement during construction to park equipment,” she said. “When they’re ready to move forward with the project, that transaction will be completed.”