Highgate VT— 300 students, plus faculty, parents and community members celebrated the new stretch of sidewalk from Lamkin Street to a much desired flashing beacon leading pedestrians safety across Route 78 during the “Walk to School Day” on Friday December 1st.
So often a sidewalk can be thought of as a basic town necessity; however this is the first for this generation in Highgate, VT. Heidi Britch-Valenta, Town Administrator will agree that any major infrastructure change can take a significant amount of time and lots of community partners. This particular sidewalk project dates back to 2006 when the town received a grant to improve pedestrian safety from the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC). For the grant application the Planning Commission documented how challenging it was to navigate the village which is dissected by the very busy, US Route 78. At the time they also received 15 letters of support from local businesses. In 2007 the planning commission hired Resource System Group (RSG) out of Burlington as the design team to perform the feasibility study. They chose to focus on the Lamkin Street and Mill Hill area that could lead to a crosswalk on Route 78.
Upon completion the study sat stagnant for several years until the Planning Commission brought it forward to then new Town Administrator, Heidi in 2013. The sidewalk committee was created to keep working on the issue and was comprised of representatives from the planning commission, development review board (DRB), select board, library, and elementary school. In 2013 the town received a $250,000 grant that paved the way from Vermont Agency of Transportation, which required the town to contribute about $60,000 more tax payer’s dollars to fund its construction. The sidewalk committee then hired RSG as the design consultant for the project and they worked closely with the Planning Commission on the design and state permitting. Simultaneously, Safe Routes to School began a pedestrian travel plan for the elementary school and Rise VT began to support both projects. The sidewalk project went out to bid in August and construction was started by GW Tatro Construction of Jeffersonville in September with Ruggiano Engineering of St. Albans as the construction inspection firm.
While Highgate school buses dropped off students at the St. Louis Church, select board members Joshua LaRocque and Randy Connelly thanked everyone who helped make the sidewalk project and Walk to School Day possible before Connelly’s son Beckett, did the honors of cutting the ribbon. The students, faculty, parents, and community members walked the approximately .5 miles from St. Louis Church to Highgate Elementary School down Lamkin Street, with volunteer cross guard patrol from the Highgate Volunteer Fire Department at the new 2 cross walks, and the Police Department present at the cross at route 78. RiseVT Wellness Specialist Betsy Fournier says “This is a great way for kids to get some wiggles out before the school day.”
According to Safe Routes to School, walking and biking to school has many added benefits to our kids including:
- Weight and blood pressure control
- Bone, muscle, and joint health and maintenance
- Reduction in the risk of diabetes
- Improved psychological welfare
- Better academic performance
Extremely active library director, Liza Comiskey, says “I saw a little boy on his bike trying to cross at the beacon and sure it took a few minutes for cars to actually stop but when they did he was able to cross safety. It will take time for a generational community like Highgate to adapt to new behavior. But this is the positive change we are looking to support.”
Chris Palmer, assistant principal at Highgate Elementary School cannot wait to do this again in the spring with partners RiseVT and Safe Routes to School!
The future of Highgate is looking bright and they have a great group of enthusiastic community members working on shaping Highgate into a healthier community one step at a time.