‘We already pretty much do that’: safe school routes bill is nothing new to local districts

HB 136: School Safe Routes Evaluations promotes quicker response to safety concerns along students travels to school for walkers and bikers, St. George, Utah, Sept.. 15, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A bill being presented before the Utah Legislature during the current session is nothing new to local districts, as the schools already have implemented procedures covered within the legislation.

HB 136 concerns students who have to walk or bike to school, St. George, Utah, Sept. 15, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

HB 136: Safe School Route Evaluations pertains to safe school routes and ways to ensure safer travel for kids to schools. It has been introduced this last week on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives in the state capitol. It passed the House and headed to the Senate on Feb. 3.

“HB 136 is simple,” Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-Davis, the bill sponsor, said via phone.

Ballard said the bill would require by law for school districts or local education agencies to have a school route safety commission that evaluates school routes and makes recommendations for improvements needed along the routes. Known as the Safe School Route Plan, the recommendations and evaluation reports are filed with the transportation departments within the cities that own the roads.

The main part of the bill will require the city to respond to those evaluations and recommendations within 30 days from when it was filed by the school.

“It is a good addition to a requirement that already exists,” Ballard said.

She said the bill requires two things.

“The municipality of those roads to respond within 30 days to the recommended changes,” she said. “It requires the municipality if they are going to make the changes, that they apply to UDOT as well for help in funding it.”

Utah Department of Transportation has a fund to help repair and upgrade things needed along designated safe school routes. Ballard said those finances from that fund can be used to help the municipality to finance the recommendations to be done. If it’s not possible for the municipality to make the changes or fulfill the recommendations, then the school must consider a different safe school route or even consider bussing.

UDOT has the Safe Routes to School Program which helps fund maintenance issues needed to maintain safe travel for students to and from schools, St. George, Utah, Feb. 8, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

The Safe Routes to School Program is implemented statewide to fulfill the primary goal of improving safety in the areas surrounding schools.

This bill affects students who live close to the schools, within 1.5 to two miles of a school and are too close to be bussed.

Ballard explained an example of a school route in Woods Cross where the students have to travel along and through several potential hazards to school. This is the route that the kids take in the area where the Utah Senate sponsor, Sen. Todd Weiler, lives.

“The kids are supposed to walk past a refinery, over train tracks, through I-15 and across Hwy 89 to get to their school,” Ballard said, “and that is the route the school has chosen for them to walk.”

She said if they chose a safe route to the school it would be more than two miles and the school would be required to bus them. Nothing has been done in that situation. This is unlike Southern Utah, as reported by the local districts.

“It’s not going to affect us at all, as we already addressed these issues for our students,” Washington County School District Communication and Foundation Director Steven Dunham said in an email concerning the bill. “We tried to be attentive to those students that might live in areas of concern and provide space, available seating on buses so we can alleviate those concerns.”

Similarly, Iron County School District Communication and Foundation Coordinator Shauna Lund reported how much the legislation passed would affect the schools within the district.

“We do not see this as a significant change to our current practices,” Lund said. “ICSD is in favor of being a partner to work on safe routes to schools.”

Both reported that good relationships with municipalities and their leaders have helped keep safer routes for children and make the necessary changes when safety concerns arise.

Updated, Feb. 3, 2023, 4:22 p.m.: status of the bill was updated to passing the House and heading to Senate.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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