Legislation Continues and Improves Safe Routes to School Program
Apr 14 2011
WASHINGTON – Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) joined a group of senators in introducing a measure that seeks to increase the safety of children going to school by foot or bike by constructing new sidewalks, bike lanes, pathways, and crossings, traffic signals and promoting Safe Routes to School education and law enforcement campaigns. The legislation, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), reauthorizes the federal Safe Routes to School Program, created in 2005, and expands upon its successes, for example, allowing high schools in conjunction with middle and elementary schools to participate in the program, as well as reducing overhead costs for certain projects.
"Every day, hundreds of Delaware children walk and bike to school," said Sen. Carper. "Whether it's a walk around the block or a bike ride down the road, our children deserve to have a safe path to and from their destination. Moreover, this bill encourages children from an early age to be active and to use alternative, pollution-free modes of transportation – a habit that will pave the way to a healthier future for everyone."
The bill is supported by a number of organizations, including the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, American Public Health Association, National Association for Health and Fitness, National Association of State Boards of Education, Safe Kids USA, Safe Routes to School National Partnership and YMCA of the USA. Other co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Begich (D-AK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).
About the bill:
The bill would retain the core structure of the existing federal Safe Routes to School program. Under the existing program:
- Each state Department of Transportation (DOT) is required to appoint a full-time Safe Routes to School coordinator to administer the program.
- State DOTs receive an annual apportionment of SRTS funds based on the state's share of the overall population of school children. Between 70-90% of a state's funds must be used on infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks, and the remaining 10-30% is for education, enforcement, and evaluation.
The changes proposed by the bill would strengthen and expand the existing program:
- Given high demand and need for the program, sustain funding at the FY09 level of $183 million per year.
- Change the minimum state apportionment and administrative set-aside from a flat dollar amount to a percentage of the overall funding level [0.5 percent for minimum apportionment and 1.5 percent for administration].
- Allow the Secretary to use up to 5 percent of the overall authorization to create an incentive fund to encourage states to add state funds to the federal SRTS funds.
- Allow high schools to participate in projects that also benefit elementary and middle schools.
- Allow states to use up to 10 percent of infrastructure funding to improve bus stop safety.
- Exempt non-infrastructure projects from title 23 highway regulations.
- Require the Secretary and State DOTs to use existing practices and precedents to improve infrastructure project delivery and reduce overhead.
- Require FHWA to redistribute any funds that are not obligated by states within three years.
Add a research and evaluation component:
- Require the Secretary develop and implement a comprehensive evaluation.
- Add an administrative set aside of 1.5 percent for research and evaluation.
Make technical clarifications to align the statute with existing practice:
- Clarify that local SRTS managers and planning grants are eligible uses of funding.
- Require states to track the economic distribution of their awards and, if necessary, implement special practices to increase participation by low-income schools.