NORTH ANDOVER — A plan to put sidewalks on Parker and Greene streets so children can walk safely to school drew favorable reactions from parents last night.
When they heard it will probably be two to two-and-a-half years before the sidewalks are built, however, many of them let out a collective groan.
The proposed sidewalks would make it easier for children to walk to the nearby North Andover Middle, Atkinson and Kittredge schools.
About a couple of dozen residents attended a meeting at Town Hall to hear about the project, which would be paid for by Safe Routes to School, a federal program that provides money for infrastructure improvements that encourage children to walk or ride their bicycles rather than travel in cars in their quest for learning.
The money is distributed by state departments of transportation.
The asphalt sidewalks, 5 feet wide with granite curbing, would be built on the south side of Parker and Greene streets, according to Kevin Dandrade, principal of TEC, a Lawrence engineering firm hired by the state Department of Transportation. The entire $630,000 cost of the project would be financed by the federal government, Dandrade said.
The project would also include a “well-defined crossing” on busy Massachusetts Avenue near Greene Street, he said.
Lauren Parker and Regina Kean, both of whom reside on Massachusetts Avenue, suggested a crosswalk be placed closer to Atkinson School, which their children attend. They noted that Massachusetts Avenue is a difficult street to cross, especially for children.
Residents inquired about what steps can be taken to slow traffic on streets that are near schools. Dandrade noted that the state regulates speed limits on all roads in Massachusetts. The town can petition the state Department of Transportation to reduce speed limits, he said.
“It’s a gift that the federal government is giving us,” Daniel Boudreau, of 165 Greene St., said. He then asked Dandrade for an estimate on how long it will take for the money to be dispensed by the state Department of Transportation and the sidewalks built.
When Dandrade estimated it would be two to two-and-a-half years, many people in the second-floor meeting room at Town Hall exhaled in frustration.
Town Planner Judy Tymon said the selectmen want to hear residents’ opinions before endorsing the project. The town cannot receive the money for the sidewalks until the selectmen give their approval, she explained.
Dandrade, whose firm has designed similar projects in many other communities, including Lowell, Lexington, Swampscott and Chelsea, said there will be “limited damage to the environment” if the sidewalks are built. He showed pictures of new sidewalks where trees and bushes were left intact.