FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA 21) – In February, ABC21 went digging deeper, finding out ‘where the sidewalk ends.’
We discovered that after Fort Wayne Community Schools cut back on bus service, some students who were walking to campus were doing so on routes that had no sidewalks.
Instead they walked on hilly terrain, slim shoulders, and beside heavy traffic.
Wednesday, seven months after our first report, we’re seeing results.
City leaders met outside Saint Joseph Central Elementary where they say the situation is now much safer.
City officials marked the official opening of the sidewalk with a ribbon cutting.
The new sidewalk is one that connects eight neighborhoods to the elementary school.
William Critel has been the principal at the school for 10 years and says the biggest concern has been safety.
“How can we get around the tower safely?” he asked. “What if a car crosses?”
Shan Gunawardena, the city official in charger of the sidewalk project, says finding solutions has been a top priority, but it’s not easy.
“These projects are not always easy to design because as always there is property that has to be acquired. There are utility conflicts that have to be mitigated,” he said.
When FWCS implemented it’s “no transportation zones,” the City and the District identified schools where students were most at risk when walking. Many of those high-priority projects fall within councilman Paul Ensley’s district.
“It really is great to see sidewalks going in and serving some of our much needed elementary schools,” Ensley said.
Back in February, Gunawardena said the estimated cost to pave all those sidewalks was “probably over $70 million.”
Wednesday, that figure changed, and not for the better. He said it’s probably much higher now. Gunawardena blames the increase on a labor shortage and material costs that are rising every year.
The City has spent more than $3.5 million on sidewalk construction this year. As ABC21 has noted, it could take 10 years to put walkways alongside all of those schools that need them.
“Ten years is too long. It’s too long for kids to be walking to school without sidewalks,” Ensley said. “It’s frustrating when we can find $50 million to fund something like the Electric Works project, but then we have kids walking to school without sidewalks.”
City officials say 24 sidewalks are currently in the design phase. In the past three years 10 new sidewalk connections have opened, and another seven are currently under construction.
The construction season is wrapping up, but City officials say they expect even more sidewalks to be finished next construction season.