Audrey Love

Navigating two blocks of Elgin’s streets will soon be safer and more practical thanks to recent construction made possible through grant funding.

Two blocks of residential streets — from S. 14th Street to the front of the high school on Birch St., then from the high school to Highway 82 (S. Eighth Avenue) — have been under construction since Aug. 20. Public Works has been digging in preparation to lay concrete sidewalks on both sides of the streets. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of next week.

“Everyday for lunch the (high school) kids walk straight out the front of the high school and they (have to) walk down the middle of the street because there are no sidewalks,” lamented Brock Eckstein, Elgin’s city administrator. “It’s been that way since I was in high school. I’m glad we can finally change that.”

Available through the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Small City Allotment program is an annual allocation of state funds for local transportation projects in cities with fewer than 5,000 residents. Through an agreement between the League of Oregon Cities and ODOT, the department sets aside $5 million each year for the grant, with individual project funding limited to $50,000 per project.

The City of Elgin matched grant funding with an additional $50,000 toward the project, as well as implementing a street user fee, a monthly addition to residents’ sewer and water bill allotted to street repairs, to help cover costs.

“It’s a higher foot traffic area in town because all of the (high school) kids,” Eckstein said. “It’s got really bad drainage (as well). It forces (kids) to the middle of the street and makes traffic almost impossible to drive down the road. This will alleviate the drainage problem and keep the kids out of the road.”

The city has another sidewalk project in the works as well: the Safe Routes to School pro gram. Another grant program through ODOT, Safe Routes to School aims to make walking or biking to school a safer, more viable option, with the infrastructure portion of the program focusing on the construction of walking and biking routes, crossings, sidewalks and bike lanes.

The city plans on partnering with the Elgin School District in order to apply for the grant, which will cover five to six more blocks than the Small City Allotment grant, from 15th Avenue to 12th Avenue and from 12th to Division Street.

“We’re partnering with the school district to make this happen,” Elgin Mayor Allan Duffy said. “It takes both of us on board to get that grant.”

House Bill 2017, passed by the Oregon State Legislature in spring 2017, dedicated $10 million annually for Safe Routes to School infrastructure — funds that will increase to $15 million in 2023 — in order to build projects within a one-mile radius of schools for safer and easier walking and bicycle commutes for kids. Similar to the city’s current project, Safe Routes to School will also include the construction of sidewalks on both sides of the streets. The city is currently in the application process for the grant, the funds for which won’t be awarded until 2019.

The city has also applied for an additional allotment grant to pave the remaining three to four miles of gravel roads in the city, funding for which also won’t be available until 2019.