Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 04 September 2012 13:44
Cooperation between local public entities is being credited as a key reason Hillsboro city leaders received word last week that the Kansas Department of Transportation has awarded the community two grants totaling almost $900,000 that should enhance the safety of residents.
A grant of $627,400 will go toward the construction of deceleration and acceleration lanes off U.S. Highway 56 onto Adams Street, and a grant of $250,000 will go toward the construction of better sidewalks for children through KDOT’s Safe Routes to School program.
Construction on both project should begin in spring or summer 2013, according to Larry Paine, city administrator, who credited the city’s partnership with USD 410 staff for making both grants possible.
“This is another example of how one part of the governmental organization needs and can help another part of the governmental organization when we partner that way so the community ends up the winner,” Paine said.
KDOT had initially turned down the city’s grant application to add the exit and entrance lanes at U.S. 56 and Adams because the program requires that the project must be contained within city limits.
After the city presented a plan to achieve that, Hillsboro was provisionally approved.
“We’ve been working with the property owner on the east side of (North) Adams to annex that piece of property,” Paine said. “Once that’s done, we will annex the entire right of way along the highway from the south right-of-way line to the north right-of-way line, from the west city limits out to approximately the east side of the Hillsboro Industrial Park.”
Paine said the next will be to apply for KDOT funding for constructing a similar project at the intersection of U.S. 56 and Industrial Road that will service the industrial park as well as the new location proposed for Hillsboro Community Hospital.
Paine said he felt USD 410’s input on the U.S. 56-Adams project was significant in KDOT’s approval of the project that is estimated to cost $660,500. The city will cover the overage.
At Paine’s invitation, Keith Goossen, USD 410 transportation supervisor, participated in KDOT’s site visit that is part of the application process. Goossen told KDOT officials his bus drivers had expressed concern about the safety of the intersection.
“The thing that was helpful is that we actually were out there at the intersection with KDOT people,” Paine said. “They could see with their own eyes what was going on and how a school bus would have to slow down in order to make that turn.
“Being on site was part of what they wanted to do so they could visualize what we were trying to accomplish with this (project). It wasn’t like we were looking at drawings. They could see the trucks blazing by.”
Hillsboro was one of 18 Kansas communities to receive a grant through KDOT’s Geometric Improvement program. KDOT received 41 applications for grants totaling $27 million.
Safe Routes to School
The city’s $250,000 grant through Safe Routes to School will go toward the construction of one phase of a much larger plan to improve the safety of children traveling to and from school, Paine said.
“What the plan was designed to do was talk about all of the things that we need to do in the community to upgrade sidewalks for kids to walk to school,” he said.
“When we went through the planning process, we were encouraged to put everything we wanted on that plan because the way that KDOT does this is to award only $250,000 grants. Once it’s in the plan, you can do another portion, then another portion, then another portion to accomplish the requirements for the whole plan.”
Paine said USD 410 was the pivotal player in securing the grant, even though the involvement of the city was required by program rules to be the official applying entity.
Among other things, the district was required to get input from parents, identify the routes students presently take to walk or ride their bikes to school, and to incorporate a classroom curriculum about student safety.
“They’re the ones who really designed and worked through the need requirements for that grant and actually accomplished it,” Paine said of district staff.
He added that Hillsboro may have clinched the grant when KDOT officials found out USD 410 had been one of three communities in Kansas to be approved earlier this month for a grant of $24,575 to begin a Walking School Bus program.
“When Becky Pepper and other staff from KDOT came to visit and look at the project, Evan (Yoder, elementary principal) mentioned getting the Walking School Bus grant,” Paine said. “Becky Pepper picked up her head and said, ‘Oh really?’ It was like, ‘You guys are serious.’
“To me, that was one of those things that said, ‘You’ve done this, therefore I can do my part because you are doing what you need to do in the community.’”
Paine said last week’s announcements show how local cooperation has been key to the community’s ability to improve and grow.
“What it shows is that Hillsboro is, and continues to be, a community with vitality,” he said. “We have found a way to make things happen that are good for the community and help its overall greatness, so to speak.”
Paine said that vitality goes beyond the ability to bring in grant funding, as helpful as that is. It makes the city more attractive to potential new businesses.
“In the world of economic development, people need to know that you are doing things that are above just trying to find a new company to bring to town,” he said.
“We can say we’ve got a great quality of life—everybody in the world says that. But when we’ve done this for the highway, and we’ve done this for rebuilding streets, and we’ve been doing this or that for the school district—all of a sudden Hillsboro becomes a special place in their minds and it makes our business recruiting easier to do.
“Not that it makes it easy—it makes it easier,” he added.