A road extension project on Maple Street five years in the making will help improve the flow of traffic near four northside schools.

The extension was identified as part of a 2012 Safe Routes to School study, said Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer. Schools in the area — Columbus North High, Northside Middle, Schmitt Elementary and St. Bartholomew Catholic — have a combined enrollment of more than 4,000 students.

The city celebrated the opening of the extension Wednesday morning at the corner of Tipton Lane and Maple Street with a ribbon cutting. The extension has been open to motorists since Sept. 17, said Hank Akard, project manager with United Consulting.

“This will help us get the kids in and out,” Mayor Jim Lienhoop said.

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The road extension allows drivers to access Maple Street from the north by turning right from U.S. 31, while motorists can also leave the area using U.S. 31 by turning right off Maple. No left turns are permitted when either entering or leaving the area.

Eighty percent of the $437,816 project was federally funded, while the city picked up the remaining $87,563, Hayward said. The city’s portion was paid through its thoroughfare fund, money that is collected through property taxes earmarked for street improvement projects.

About 500 feet of new sidewalk was also put in as part of the joint project between the city, Healthy Communities and the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Hayward said. The project also included a pedestrian and bike path on Home Avenue to National Road, allowing children to get around traffic nearby, he said.

The extension has already helped move traffic in the area as buses have been able to leave schools much quicker, said Mike Ferrara, general superintendent with Milestone Contractors. The overall improvements are also important for BCSC in ensuring that students are safe, superintendent Jim Roberts said.

“Anytime we can increase the accessibility to school for students who are walking or biking is helpful,” he said.

Traffic congestion on 27th Street and Home Avenue is expected to be alleviated with the opening of the Maple Street extension, said Kelli Thompson, director of health services for BCSC. Students attending Northside can now use a trail between St. Bartholomew and the track at Northside to get to school instead of using the intersection of 27th Street and Home Avenue, Thompson said.

About the project

What: Extension of Maple Street providing an alternate route for motorists to get in and out of the area, which has four schools with a combined enrollment in excess of 4,000 students.

Who was involved: City of Columbus, Healthy Communities and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Cost: $437,816 with 80 percent being federally funded and the remainder picked up by the city.

Other information: Road extension opened to the public Sept. 17.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com