TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County leaders are set to approve the construction of new sidewalks near Mort Elementary School in Tampa's University Area. For years, families have said they feel scared letting their kids walk to school because of the lack of safe, continuous sidewalks and lighting issues.
This project will connect segments of existing sidewalks throughout the neighborhood, according to Hillsborough County.
Currently, there are very few continuous sidewalks surrounding Mort Elementary. In 2017, University Area neighbors were issuing pleas for volunteers to help protect kids walking dark streets to school. Often, students as young as kindergarten are walking as early as 6:30 a.m.
In an effort to try and keep children safe, volunteers through the Walking School Bus Program started helping "pick up" kids from home to home and helping them walk together in a group. The effort is designed to provide more visibility and safety in numbers.
"I'm a mom and I wouldn't let them walk themselves to school," said Lashanda Copeland, a Walking School Bus Volunteer and Mort Elementary parent told ABC Action News in 2017. "It's too dark. Where we live at, kids get hit by cars if they don't see them and you don't know who is around you."
This new sidewalk project near Mort Elementary is a part of the Safe Routes to School Initiative through Hillsborough County and Vision Zero Safety Goals.
This comes after a push from the University Area Community Development Corporation in 2019 to help create safer streets, specifically for kids walking to school.
"We've seen far too many kids get hit and killed by cars in this community and we think it's time now that we rally together in order to put in sidewalks," Sarah Combs, CEO of the University Area Development Corporation, told ABC Action News in 2019.
If passed, this budget amendment will add $737,201 to the Mort Elementary School Project, of which $502,473 is federal grant funds, $106,559.00 is the county's grant match requirement and $128,169 is additional county support to complete the project.
If approved, the new sidewalks are set to be complete sometime in the next five months, according to county documents.