By ROBERT CONNELLY
Township officials are hopeful a new sidewalk along state Route 170 will increase foot traffic to area schools.
Poland received $500,000 from a grant program called Safe Routes to School. The idea is to increase foot traffic to schools in communities for environmental and health reasons, with money through the federal Department of Transportation and being administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Trustee Bob Lidle said getting sidewalks to connect the schools was a campaign promise he made when he first ran 13 years ago. He said Poland has applied for the funding many times over the years, getting rejected twice, receiving partial funding a third time and finally getting fully funded the fourth time.
Lidle said the township received the full funding about 13 months ago for construction and the sidewalk. Faust Construction is the contractor for the 1.2 miles of sidewalk to be installed along state Route 170. The sidewalk portion is expected to be finished by the first week of August, and other aspects of the project should be finished by the first week of September.
The project runs from the elementary school, Dobbins Road, to Nesbitt Street, the first village of Poland street on 170 and where the project will tie into existing sidewalks in the downtown area and to the middle school.
“The state of Ohio only got $21 million,” Lidle said. He added that if every project was awarded the same as Poland — $500,000 — that’s “42 sidewalks across the state ... just because of the limited funding.” He said feasibility and engineering studies by MS Consultants were part of the package submitted for the grant.
“I think the reality of it was you couldn’t walk on 170. ... It was extremely dangerous. So now, with our high school busing being cut, [anyone] can pretty much walk to high school every day,” Trustee Eric Ungaro said.
Ungaro, Lidle, and Poland Superintendent David Janofa all spoke about the symbolism of the sidewalk and the way the schools were able to work with the village and the township on the project.
“It just means more than just a sidewalk for me,” Janofa said. “Everybody that I’ve talked to — they are so excited because there’s never been an opportunity besides hopping in a vehicle” to get to school, he added.
Lidle talked about going to Poland High School himself, going on 40 years ago this year. “We wish we had sidewalks,” he remarked. “I know that I myself would have benefited walking to and from school.”
Residents Harry Ponikvar and Ken Fox both agreed the contractors are doing a good job with the project. Fox lives at the corner of Poland Village Boulevard and 170 while Ponikvar lives a few houses before Stoner Avenue.
“I’m afraid that [kids] will be on the sidewalk and go out on the road,” while playing around, Fox said. He also said he personally will use the sidewalk to walk to Friday-night football games. “I’m just worried about the young guys.”
Ponikvar said he doesn’t expect many students to use the sidewalks once school starts back up. “The kids all go to school in cars. They don’t walk,” he said.
He said it might benefit runners he sees out there, but remarked, “I bet you don’t see six people a day. ... They got a bike or car.”
“Only time you’re going to see people [walking] is Friday night,” Ponikvar said.