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State grant to make trek to Chiddix Junior High safer

The Safe Routes to Schools grant program will extend paths near Chiddix Jr. High in Normal.
Town of Normal
The Safe Routes to Schools grant program will extend paths near Chiddix Jr. High in Normal.

The Town of Normal will use a nearly $249,000 grant to make walking to Chiddix Junior High School safer.

The Safe Routes to School grant will create several new paths and access to a pedestrian bridge on Karin Drive.

“The grant will allow us to construct a 10-foot and 8-foot multiuse path essentially from a bridge that goes from Karin Drive across Sugar Creek into the Chiddix complex. Right now, the bridge comes out and just stops in a grassy area. …That will allow junior high students to access Chiddix Junior High School on an accessible path from that neighborhood without having to go up to College Avenue,” said Public Works Director Ryan Otto. “The grass surface is wet and muddy at times and snowy at times. It's also not accessible for folks with mobility issues.”

The Friends of the Constitution Trail is praising the grant, saying it will help more than kids. The group notes it will also improve residential access to Anderson Park and Aquatic Center, Uptown Normal and the Constitution Trail. The paths will not connect directly to the trail.

“We are looking at upgrading some sidewalks in that Karin Drive area. There's a narrow 4-foot sidewalk right now that leads from Karin Drive up to the bridge over Sugar Creek. We'll upgrade that sidewalk. That'll be a little safer for bikes and things to use," said Otto.

There will be other connectivity advantages.

“We're planning a multiuse path that will go on the east side of the Chiddix parking lot to Dewey Avenue that will allow access from the north as well without having to navigate through a busy middle school parking lot during the morning hours. It will allow students to ride their bike through that area. It'll provide a nice access to the park facility as well,” said Otto.

In addition to the paths, the grant will also pay for a new bike rack.

Otto said he anticipates construction during the summer of 2026.

The Safe Routes to School program is funding 47 projects selected from 143 applications received from local governments and schools throughout the state.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said the total amount in grants is $9.8 million for local projects that will help boost the health and safety of children by making walking and biking to school safer and more accessible.

“From Moline to Normal to Chicago Heights, the Safe Routes to Schools program is creating accessible communities that are safer and healthier places to live,” said Gov. JB Pritzker.

In Central Illinois, the program is also giving $250,000 to Farmer City for sidewalk and pedestrian crosswalk improvements near Schneider Elementary School, and Blue Ridge Junior High and High Schools.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.