Grant for pedestrian overpass may be turned away

June 06, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — When a small, rural California city is only one of two in the state to receive a state grant totaling $500,000, that typically would be reason to celebrate.

That may not be the case with a grant that has left city officials here wondering whether it would be best to give the money back.

The grant in question is part of a state Safe Routes to School program.

Westmorland has had the grant in place for more than a year. The funding is meant to build a pedestrian overpass above Highway 86 at C Street to make it safer for kids walking to Westmorland elementary and junior high schools.


While it sounds like a good idea, the dimensions such an overpass would consist of to meet federal American Disability Act regulations could be too much for the city to handle.

According to the Holt Group of El Centro, which provides engineering services to Westmorland, such an overpass would stretch 282 feet on the south side of C and 144 feet to the north.

Council members said that is simply too large for the city to accommodate and would present new dangers, from being misused as an unofficial skate park to kids hanging out underneath the overpass. City officials also said it could become a target for graffiti.

Another problem is that the $500,000 grant likely would be insufficient to cover costs, which means the city might have to dig into its own pockets.

Some on the council asked if an elevator facility might work better than an expansive ramp leading to an overpass.

Concerns were voiced that an elevator would break down and present its own problems and dangers.

Councilman Henry Graham questioned what need the city has for an overpass since there have been no problems related to children crossing the street to school.

He pointed out the city has a crossing guard program and adult supervision is working in keeping students safe on their way to and from school.

The other issue is that the idea initially was to seek a grant to place a traffic light on C and Highway 86, but, city officials said, the state would not accept a traffic signal project based on the amount of traffic and lack of accidents on C.

From that point, the idea of an overpass was born as a way to insure the safety of the youth going to school.

Graham said he would like to see the council continue to try to fight for a traffic signal.

Councilman John Makin said a traffic signal could be even more dangerous because vehicles travel at a high rate of speed around the curve on Highway 86 leading into the city and the drivers would not see the traffic signal until it was too late for them to slow.

As the council was considering whether to let the $500,000 grant go, Makin said it would be difficult for him to give the money back to the state.

"I'm not willing to say, ‘Give the money back; we don't need it,'" Makin said.

Mayor Larry Ritchie said city officials have to think about the safety of the youth and how best to provide that safety.

In the end, he asked that Holt Group present its concept of an overpass to the school district board and then bring it back to the council during its next meeting.

Action must be taken soon, according to the Holt Group, or the city automatically will lose the money based on state deadlines for the grant. Those deadlines state that the money must be utilized by September 2003.

While that is more than a year away, it could take that long to move through the planning process.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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