AIKEN --- A project that would make walking to school safer for North Aiken Elementary and Aiken Middle schools pupils is on hold as the city awaits the OK from the state Department of Transportation.
Last year, Aiken received a $400,000 federal Safe Routes to School grant to fix up a 385-foot path that winds through neighborhood backyards in Crosland Park. The two-year construction plan included eliminating blind spots along the trail, adding lighting for those who start before sunrise and leveling a 4-foot clay embankment that pupils struggle up each day.
Aiken's senior planner, Sandra Korbelik, said the plans were approved, but the city still hasn't received the OK to act as project manager and advertise for bids.
"We still haven't heard anything," Mrs. Korbelik said.
Messages left with DOT were not returned Wednesday afternoon.
The 50 elementary pupils that make the walk each morning received a little relief this week when volunteers from Cedar Creek Church reinforced the washed-out steps up the clay hill with railroad ties. The project was completed just in time for more than 200 pupils to participate in Walk to School Day today.
Teresa Hayden, North Aiken's school nurse, shared the need with her Cedar Creek Church H.O.M.E. group, who took on the project as part of a volunteer day on Sunday.
But the blind spots still exist and parents are still worried about overall safety.
Stephanie Kelly, who has four children who use the route, said the path is always cleaned up for National Walk to School Day, but ends up going back to its previous condition by the end of the year.
"My children complain that they have bushes in their face," she said. "I just want to know why they aren't fixing it up."
About 110 pupils were bused to the schools last year because the path did not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Mrs. Korbelik estimated that foot and bicycle traffic would triple once the project was completed. The children also wouldn't require transportation.
"We have to touch the red clay (to get up the hill) and then we track it in the schools and on floors," said Glorianna Kelly, 9. "I still want to walk, but we need sidewalks."
The project was to start during the summer, but has been delayed until the beginning of 2010 at the earliest, Mrs. Korbelik said.
Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.