OAKLAND — It’s been about five years since Claire Heffernan first wrote a grant for state funds to improve the sidewalks and crosswalks children use to get to school in Oakland, and the work is finally set to begin this summer.

The Maine Department of Transportation is planning to start designing the estimated $75,000 project, which will make two crosswalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and safer for children walking to school to use.

Heffernan, the school health coordinator for Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, said she first wrote the grant in 2012 with Peter Nielsen, the Oakland town manager at the time. The improvements will be made at the busy intersections of Oak and Heath streets and Oak, Pleasant and High streets.

“It’s a major safety issue,” Heffernan said. “(The goal) is to provide a safe route to school for our students and families who are going to school and to remind the cars to slow down.”

When Heffernan first took her job, outgoing coordinator Beth Prelgobisk told her to make this issue a priority.

“Without her input that this was an important piece that needed to be done, I never would’ve looked at Oak Street, as an incoming health coordinator,” Heffernan said.

She soon discovered that this was a serious problem, though. The sidewalk was broken and “not functional,” she said, and when puddles formed, children instead would walk in the street on the way to school.

The department originally had said it would help the town make improvements if it put up a 20 percent match, either financially or through in-kind labor. The town rebuilt the sidewalks on Oak Street, putting in ramps at businesses that are compliant with the disabilities act, and improving visibility, years ago under Nielsen.

Then there was turnover at both the Oakland Town Office and the state department. New people took up positions and some paperwork seems to have become lost along the way, Heffernan said.

She knew the town was supposed to receive funding by 2016 at the latest, she said, so she approached the department when the year came. Eventually, both sides were able to find copies of some paperwork and the grant was secured this February.

“Unfortunately, it was one of those things,” said Patrick Adams, manager of bicycle and pedestrian programs at the department. He started in December 2014 and couldn’t find any records of the Oakland grant, he said. “I think it probably just fell through the cracks at that point in time.”

Adams said the department will start designing the project this summer, though construction could happen either this year or in the summer of 2018. The project would take four weeks to complete, he said.

“This is exciting news,” Heffernan said. “It took us five years, but I’m pretty excited.”

At the intersection of Oak and Heath streets, the department is going to install handicapped-accessible landings on the crosswalks that make it easier for those in wheelchairs to get across. It also will install rapid rectangular flashing beacons, which are pedestrian-activated signs that flash when someone is walking so that traffic will stop.

“National research has indicted that the compliance for that, the number of drivers who actually stop for pedestrians, is in the 88 to 89 percent compliance range, so that’s huge,” Adams said.

At the intersection near the Korner Store, the department also will upgrade the crosswalks to have more accessible landings and install pedestrian signals that tell people when it’s safe to walk.

“From the town’s perspective and from our perspective, this type of investment for students’ safety, to help students walking to school, is really such a positive investment in the community,” Adams said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

filed under: