Who should take responsibility for school bus, bridge conflict?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Students who live on Tate Road and beyond in the northern part of the county can no longer be picked up at the end of their driveways.

That’s because a bridge on that road cannot handle the weight limit of the buses that need to cross to pick up the 18 students who live beyond it.

Inadequate bridges as well as problems with communication caused many children to miss the bus on the first morning of school on Aug. 7 because buses had to travel an alternative route.

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&uot;Problems with communication started on Wednesday (Aug. 6) morning. We tried to contact all parents, but some of the phones were not answered,&uot; said Ron Idom, director of Durham Bus Services, of students that were not picked up for the first day of school.

Inadequate bridges existed on routes down Lower Woodville Road, Deerfield Road and Palestine Road as well, but all of those routes have been rerouted to continue picking up students. Tate Road has two inadequate bridges, so it leaves these students in an &uot;isolated&uot; area with no alternative route, said Ron Idom, director of Durham Bus Services.

MDOT’s official rating, according to the latest inspection, states some bridges are not substantial enough to accommodate the weight of the buses.

There is a 10-ton or 20,000-pound limit on bridges, but several bridges within the county have even lower limits.

&uot;There are some situations where children will not be accessible (by) any method because there is only one road,&uot; Idom said.

The students past the Tate Road bridge &045; 12 on the elementary bus and 6 on the middle/high school bus &045; have not been picked up at their homes since Tuesday.

Students were given notes Monday advising parents that they need to drive their children to the St. James Church before the bridge to be picked up by the buses, according to Virginia Partridge.

Partridge said the parents were told they would be paid 32 cents per mile to drive their children to this new bus stop so that the bus does not have to cross the bridge. This would cause some parents with students on both buses four trips per day.

&uot;Even though we pay road and bridge taxes, they want us to go the extreme to go back and forth,&uot; Partridge said.

For Partridge, whose grandson is a third grader at Morgantown Elementary, the main question is why the bus traveled across the bridge before, even after January, when Durham took over the routes.

Idom said he was not aware the bridge could not handle the busload until right before school started.

Idom met with Jordan Kaiser Sessions, which does bridge inspection work for Adams County, on Aug. 7 to determine the weight loading criteria for safe travel for the buses.

Idom said the problems on most bridges had been resolved as of Aug. 8.

Despite log trucks crossing the bridges, there is liability at stake.

&uot;There is a huge liability issue when children are being carried in transportation,&uot; Idom said.

Ultimately, the safety of school bus passengers becomes the responsibility of Durham and the Natchez-Adams School District, Idom said.

&uot;We want to operate as safely as we can,&uot; Idom said. &uot;I’m sure the parents would want us to make sure everything is safe.&uot;

Partridge said she feels Durham is &uot;reneging&uot; on their contract to provide this service.

But, &uot;in this case, we provide service wherever there is feasibility,&uot; Idom said.

So, since the buses cannot cross the bridge, the school district has to decide what to do, Idom said.

Alternatives for the district include getting a bus with a lower weight to pick up these students, or the method Partridge said is being offered &045; pay for parents’ mileage to the pick-up point.

&uot;We have to have fund availability to replace the bridges. It is a lengthy time period. It is not something that happens overnight,&uot; Idom said, adding it could take up to a year and a half to make this bridge accessible, though he is not sure of an exact time period.

Adams County Road Manager Bobby Powell said the four bridges on Tate Road are all wooden bridges and none have the capacity to hold these large buses at the weight they are. The only ways to alleviate the problem, Powell said, is to either replace the bridges or get lighter buses.

&uot;Nothing can be cone to the bridges for Durham to go over them than to replace them, and that will take millions of dollars,&uot; Powell said.

Powell said it is impossible to replace all of the wooden bridges in the county but the Tate Road bridges are scheduled for replacement. However, it may be a year and a half before the process even begins.

First, the county has to get the right of ways. Powell said the county will have them in 60 to 90 days.

Then, depending on who owns the bridge, it is up to either the federal or state government to get funding. After that, it will take 150 working days, Powell said, to complete the bridge.

Though the bridges are set to be replaced, Powell said he thinks Durham should move to lighter buses.

&uot;I don’t think the problem is the county’s. The problem’s Durham’s,&uot; Powell said.