ASHLAND — Walker Avenue will get $743,000 worth of improvements to make it safer for the hundreds of elementary and middle school students who use it daily to get to class.

ASHLAND — Walker Avenue will get $743,000 worth of improvements to make it safer for the hundreds of elementary and middle school students who use it daily to get to class.

The Ashland City Council last week approved a plan for building a new stretch of sidewalk on the west side of Walker and adding improved crosswalks with traffic control devices.

"I think it's a great idea," said Josh Jayne, 40, of Ashland. "It's hard to cross the street sometimes with all this traffic, especially when you have your kid with you."

Jayne, who walks the four blocks from his house to pick up his 8-year-old son, Gael Jayne, from his third-grade class at Walker Elementary, said a new sidewalk where a dirt trail runs now would make their occasional bike rides to and from school easier, too.

Sean Elton, 27, of Ashland, who walks his 7-year-old daughter, Macinzy Elton, home from first grade, said he thinks the improvements are a good idea, especially since Macinzy will be walking home by herself after she is old enough to go to the middle school down the road.

"It'll definitely make me feel a lot safer letting her walk home by herself," he said. "It's pretty sketchy right now; some of the side streets don't even have crosswalks."

The Walker Avenue Safe Route to School project will connect a sidewalk from the road's intersection with Ashland Street to an existing section of sidewalk on the west side of Walker Avenue across from Ashland Middle School.

Construction isn't set to begin until 2013 on the project, which will be funded mostly by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program. In Oregon, funding for projects that qualify for the CMAQ program is administered by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

"It's a no-downside kind of program for us," said Ashland Mayor John Stromberg, who voted to approve the agreement with ODOT at last Tuesday's City Council meeting. "It's a program that does what it says it's going to do, which is improve our transportation facilities, so that children can walk to school safely."

The project, which will also fund improvements to smooth out Walker Avenue's rough railroad crossing, will cost an estimated $743,000, but $666,694 is available to the city through the CMAQ program. The remaining $76,306 will have to be made up by the city before construction on the project begins.

The project is more time-consuming and expensive than if it were to be funded solely by the city, because of stricter construction standards and extensive impact studies that are required through the CMAQ program.

Second-grader Lauren Andrews, 7, said she doesn't mind walking in the dirt for now, but her mom would like to see the improvements made to the street sooner than later. "It'll be useful," she said, "and safer for everyone when they finish."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.