Jemtegaard Middle School (JMS) students living in certain parts of east Washougal will have an easier and safer walk to school next year.
The city of Washougal is set to construct a trail that will link JMS to Sunset View Road, where it will become a sidewalk that will connect to the Sunset Ridge neighborhood.
“This is a positive thing for our middle school students who should be able to use the path and have a modest walk or easy bike ride to get to school from many more neighborhoods,” said JMS principal David Cooke. “It’s great for kids to get more outdoor activity, and I’m supportive of the community partnership that’s creating this new way for students to get to school safely. I’m hopeful that the new, safer route will let more students walk or bike, both to get to school as well as to participate in athletics and activities that take place here.”
The Clark County Department of Community Development is reviewing the project. If everything goes as planned at the county level, construction on the trail should begin in June and be done by September or October, said Washougal city engineer Rob Charles.
“When we see kids walking (though an area) that’s not in safe condition, clearly there’s a need there,” Charles said. “There’s no great way for kids to get from that neighborhood to (JMS). They would have to walk down Sunset View to Evergreen Way, and that’s not a great option. (This new trail) will provide a natural, logical connection to the school and a shorter distance for kids to walk.”
The path, which will include a small bridge, will be fully lit, with a pedestrian-activated flashing beacon at the intersection of Sunset View Road and Sunset Ridge Drive.
“The new path will be much safer for kids in the Sunset neighborhood to get to JMS,” Cooke said. “Currently, very few students are able to ride their bikes or walk to school due to the lack of sidewalks and crosswalks, with most of our students using the school bus or having family members pick them up and drop them off.”
Charles said the trail will benefit non-students as well.
“There are a lot of recreational facilities at the new (JMS) campus. Adults can use the trail to get to the track or other facilities,” he said. “They won’t have to jump in the car to drive one mile. They can walk or bike a quarter-mile.”
Charles said the project will cost about $850,000. The City has allocated $250,000 from its 2020 budget for the project, and the remainder will be funded by a $600,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Safe Routes to School program, which provides technical assistance and funding to public agencies to improve conditions and encourage children to walk and bike to school.
The program emphasizes improvements that reduce potential pedestrian and bicycle conflicts with motor vehicle traffic; reduce traffic volume around schools; and/or establish safer and fully accessible crossings, walkways, trails or bikeways within two miles of primary, middle and high schools.
To achieve these improvements, approximately $71 million has been awarded to 182 projects from more than $242 million in requests, according to WSDOT.
Safe Routes projects that have reported pre- and post-count data have seen an overall 20-percent increase in the number of children walking and biking to school, according to Charlotte Claybrooke, WSDOT’s active transportation program manager and Safe Routes coordinator.
Safe Routes projects have also led to a nearly 37-percent reduction in crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists at project locations implemented between 2005 and 2015, Claybrooke added.
“In general, Safe Routes to School projects tend to be good for communities and schools because they complete the network of facilities, such as sidewalks, crossings, trails and bike lanes, that allow people of all ages and abilities to walk or bike for transportation,” she said.
Cooke said he is not sure if the trail will impact the number of Washougal School District bus routes to that neighborhood.
“WSDOT is aware of the grant, but they have not started studying the impact on any neighborhoods in terms of changes to where the district would or would not provide bussing,” Cooke said. “The safety of students and their ability to get to school without crossing major roads will factor into the decision.”