MARQUETTE - Marquette City Commission members wanted to hear more input from residents about a project which, if approved, would add sidewalks leading to Bothwell Middle School. On Monday they got what they were looking for.
About 20 people addressed the project - a Safe Routes to School grant application that, if approved by the Michigan Department of Transportation, would result in sidewalks on Altamont and Mesnard streets.
Marquette resident Carrie Biolo said she and her daughter walk to Bothwell together regularly, even in winter.
"Walking on Altamont Street in the winter is nail-biting," she said, saying Altamont has a high volume of fast traffic.
Tammy Sustrich said she currently forbids her daughter to walk to Bothwell because Altamont is a "freeway."
"It is a roller coaster. It is everything there is wrong for a walking route. But she would do exactly the route you're proposing - Altamont to Mesnard and then to Bothwell. And I would love for her to walk to school safely," she said.
Colleen Hayes, who lives on Mesnard, said kids need a safe route, but disagreed with the use of Mesnard Street as a route. She suggested the route go by way of Altamont, Jackson, Albion and Mountain streets.
Ward Rantala, who said he's lived on Mesnard Street since the 1970s, fully supported sidewalks on Altamont but like Hayes questioned the logic in using Mesnard. He said the street is very busy when school begins and ends and students walking down Altamont from the north would have to cross it to get to the sidewalk on the south side of Mesnard.
Elizabeth Wentela, a high school student, said she attended Bothwell from sixth through eighth grade and walked every day. She said she chose the most direct route, Altamont and Mesnard, even though she had to walk around parked cars.
Bill Saunders, principal at Bothwell, said he fully supported the SRTS project as a school administrator, father and Mesnard Street property owner.
"Some people may be concerned about the yard or lawn. I would be one of those residents who would be giving up a little bit of my yard to have a sidewalk in the neighborhood but gladly, for my students, for my own children, to be able to walk in the neighborhood with my wife, to be able to walk my dog in the neighborhood," he said.
The commission unanimously approved the application, which will now be forwarded to MDOT. If the application is successful the city would enter into a contract with MDOT upon the city's approval of resources to be established in the fiscal year 2012-13 budget. Construction could start as early as August 2012. The city match would be in the form of staff time, with a cost not to exceed $36,388. In addition about $1,000 would be required for concrete stress testing.
"To me it's a complete no-brainer - to be able to connect the community and allow kids to get to school safely but also to allow kids to be able to get to their neighbors safely as well," said Commissioner Jason Schneider.
Commissioner David Saint-Onge said the application can be the catalyst for a good project but sidewalks on Altamont and Mesnard alone won't solve the problem. He said he would love to see a road connecting the school to McClellan Avenue, which would take traffic out of south Marquette.
Mayor John Kivela asked Director of Planning and Community Development Dennis Stachewicz Jr. if other routes beside Mesnard had been looked at. Stachewicz said Mesnard is the most central route, thus would serve the most people. He said using other streets would add as much as 700 feet to the route, making it less desirable for walkers. In addition, he said some people may not feel as safe walking on streets like Mountain Street because there are not as many homes there as on Mesnard.
George Sedlacek, community health director of the Marquette County Health Department, said over the last 40 years the number of students walking or biking to school has dramatically decreased. With childhood obesity rising, Sedlacek said the community has to do all it can to reverse that trend. Currently, less than 10 percent of Bothwell kids walk or bike to school, Sedlacek said. However a recent survey of Bothwell students showed 80 percent either would or might walk or bike to school if there were a safe route, he said.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.