CHRIS KIEFFER: Verona wants to make it safer for children to walk to school

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Students in Verona face a dangerous walk to school every morning and afternoon. City and school officials are trying to make it safer.
Roughly 250 students in the community walk or bike from their home to Verona Elementary School each day, according to the school’s principal, Temeka Shannon. Some of them are students at Verona Elementary, while others attend Plantersville Middle School or Shannon High School and catch the bus at Verona School.
Either way, they face several hazards like crossing four lanes of traffic on Raymond Avenue or traveling along streets where sidewalks don’t exist or are too close to the street.

In some spots on Tenth Street, open ditches along the side of the road force pedestrians into the street.

Because Raymond Avenue is a state highway (Highway 145), the city needs to get Mississippi Department of Transportation permission to correct some of the problems there, making solutions even more difficult.
That hasn’t stopped members of the community from trying. Last week, the Verona board of aldermen, county leaders, school representatives and concerned residents met at City Hall with an MDOT representative to learn more about an initiative the department offers.
The Safe Route to School Program uses earmarked federal money to fund projects that make it safer for children who live within two miles of their school to walk to campus. The program already is working with several communities across the state, including Oxford, Starkville, Amory and West Point.
“It is a safety issue for me because our streets are accidents waiting to happen,” said Margaret Baker, alderwoman for Ward 2.
Communities fill out applications with needs like repairing sidewalks, installing crosswalks and signs and educating students and parents about safety. The Mississippi Department of Transportation reviews those applications and determines how much money to reward.

The amount is based on need and number of students who would potentially walk to school, and it varies for every community.
It will be a slow process. Cookie Leffler, MDOT’s Safe Rides to School coordinator, said the department cannot begin reviewing applications until the next federal transportation bill is passed to fund the project. The soonest that could happen is during the fall.

As they wait, city and school officials will begin to determine their needs and prepare their application.

In the meantime, motorists can help by being extra cautious in school zones and any time they encounter children walking.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.