Buda considers funding for safe routes to schools

Improving pedestrian access near Buda-area schools is the focus for city staff as they compete for $8.7 million in grants to help fund future projects.

Buda city leaders March 26 expressed concern about the proposed application, fearing possible unintended impacts to bus routes in area neighborhoods.

John Nett, Buda city engineer, unveiled plans to apply for the Texas Department of Transportation’s project call for Transportation Alternate projects and Safe Routes to School. Nett said city staff first learned of the project call during a Feb. 15 meeting.

Nett said Buda city staff is planning to focus on Safe Routes to School project funding, which is available for cities of all sizes.

To be eligible, a proposed project must be in proximity to an existing school and must lead to construction of physical improvements and contributes to the community as a “significant public investment.”

Nett said some of the projects that could be considered are those that improve and enhance safety for students walking to and from school, as well as improving mobility and safety for students with disabilities. That could include multi-use paths or bike paths.

In total, an estimated $8.7 million is up for grabs statewide as part of the program for projects dated for 2023 and beyond. The process is done in two steps, with cities submitting a preliminary packet to TxDOT by mid-April. If Buda makes the first round of cuts, the city could then submit a more detailed application by mid-July.

No projects have been identified at this time, but Nett said city leaders could choose to identify projects at a later date.

Several Buda city council members worried the project call, while well intentioned, could affect bus routes in area neighborhoods. Under the SRTS program, students who live within two miles of a campus do not receive bus service as long as they have a safe path to school. Hays CISD also crafts a Hazardous Routes list, which identifies areas within a two-mile radius of a campus that can receive bus service because of homes near a highway or without a safe access route.

Buda City Council member Lee Urbanvosky asked city staff to “tread lightly,” citing issues experienced by Garlic Creek parents when the city built a bridge over Onion Creek in 2014.

Construction of the bridge, which was meant to improve safety for students walking to Elm Grove Elementary, led Hays CISD officials to change its hazardous routes list; the move took away school bus service for 700 Garlic Creek homes.

“We can say this is not our intent to take buses away, but we have very little control or influence of what Hays CISD does,” Urbanovsky said.

City Manager Kenneth Williams said the bridge was an example of “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that it worked against the city. Williams said the city plans to work with Hays CISD to put in writing the proposed projects won’t impact bus service.

Councilmember Wiley Hopkins said identifying consequences that could arise from the proposed projects is needed before the city submits an application.

“That could be adversarial to families and children,” Hopkins said.

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