A total of $3.8 million in grants will be given to 105 Minnesota schools under a federal aid program called Safe Routes for Schools, which is administered by MnDOT.
The money originates with the U.S. Department of Transportation but is awarded and dispersed through MnDOT. It helps local communities and school districts provide safe walking and biking options for students heading to school, according to MnDOT spokesperson Jessica Wiens.
“It can be anything from that early planning stage all the way to infrastructure grants, which would be something like putting in a signalized crosswalk or adding sidewalks somewhere where there weren’t sidewalks before,” Wiens says.
Some of the money is used for educating students about where to find safe walking and biking routes to schools and how best to use them.
Though MnDOT is responsible for the program in Minnesota, the state Department of Health is a partner as well, so it has a “healthy kids” component, Wiens says. That is reflected in one of the awards, given to five schools in Benton and Stearns counties, for a local program called “Better Living Exercise and Nutrition Daily.”
However, Wiens says, MnDOT’s own emphasis is on transportation safety. So by giving younger students more safe options for walking and biking to school, she says, fewer parents must give their children rides to school. The lowers traffic levels around schools.
The awards were given in three categories: planning, non-infrastructure (a category that includes education, enforcement and evaluation activities) and infrastructure. The money will support Safe Routes for Schools programs in 61 Minnesota communities.
MnDOT solicited grant applications in October 2012 and received 102 of them, funding only 43, Weins says. The total amount requested was nearly $15.5 million, of which roughly one-fifth was granted.
Since 2005, MnDOT has awarded $15.5 million under the program, mostly for infrastructure improvements, Wiens says.
The future of the program is unclear. MnDOT has about $1 million left to distribute under current federal authorizations. However, federal legislation authorizing the program is changing, Weins says. MnDOT and the state Legislature are now discussing new ways to fund similar projects at the state level.
A full list of 2013 Safe Routes for Schools grant recipients can be found online at www.dot.state.mn.us/saferoutes/grants.html.