April 13, 2011
Harkin Introduces Measure to Make Getting to School Safer for Kids
Legislation continues and improves Safe Routes to School Program
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) yesterday led a group of 11 senators in introducing a measure that seeks to increase the safety of children going to school by foot or bike by constructing new sidewalks, bike lanes, pathways, and crossings, traffic signals and promoting Safe Routes to School education and law enforcement campaigns. The legislation reauthorizes the federal Safe Routes to School Program that Harkin helped to create in 2005 and expands upon its successes, for example, allowing high schools in conjunction with middle and elementary schools to participate in the program, as well as reducing overhead costs for certain projects.
“Across the country, budgets are causing school districts to cut bus service, forcing kids to walk further and in many cases, along busy streets. Parents shouldn’t have to worry if their child will make it to school safely and students should be able to get to their classrooms to learn without putting themselves in danger. That is why this bill is so important. Making these small investments and changes can have a big impact on a kid’s well-being,” said Harkin. “And, as an added bonus, by providing safe routes to walk and bike to school, we encourage kids to be more active and help them to lead happier, healthier lives.”
The bill is supported by a number of organizations, including the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, American Public Health Association, National Association for Health and Fitness, National Association of State Boards of Education, Safe Kids USA, Safe Routes to School National Partnership and YMCA of the USA. Co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Begich (D-AK), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).
The bill will:
The bill would retain the core structure of the existing federal Safe Routes to School program. Under the existing program:
• Each state Department of Transportation (DOT) is required to appoint a full-time Safe Routes to School coordinator to administer the program.
• State DOTs receive an annual apportionment of SRTS funds based on the state’s share of the overall population of school children. Between 70-90% of a state’s funds must be used on infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks, and the remaining 10-30% is for education, enforcement, and evaluation.
The changes proposed by the bill would strengthen and expand the existing program:
Given high demand and need for the program, sustain funding at the FY09 level of $183 million per year
• Change the minimum state apportionment and administrative set-aside from a flat dollar amount to a percentage of the overall funding level [0.5 percent for minimum apportionment and 1.5 percent for administration].
• Allow the Secretary to use up to 5 percent of the overall authorization to create an incentive fund to encourage states to add state funds to the federal SRTS funds.
• Allow high schools to participate in projects that also benefit elementary and middle schools.
• Allow states to use up to 10 percent of infrastructure funding to improve bus stop safety.
Improve project delivery and reduce overhead by addressing regulatory burden:
• Exempt non-infrastructure projects from title 23 highway regulations.
• Require the Secretary and State DOTs to use existing practices and precedents to improve infrastructure project delivery and reduce overhead.
• Require FHWA to redistribute any funds that are not obligated by states within three years.
Add a research and evaluation component:
• Require the Secretary develop and implement a comprehensive evaluation.
• Add an administrative set aside of 1.5 percent for research and evaluation.
Make technical clarifications to align the statute with existing practice:
• Clarify that local SRTS managers and planning grants are eligible uses of funding.
• Require states to track the economic distribution of their awards and, if necessary, implement special practices to increase participation by low-income schools.