By Eric Crews
Staff Writer 

Parents Want Route Change


(The Transylvania Board of Education held its annual retreat on Feb. 6. The following is a second story from that retreat.)

Athletics Director Alan Justice told the school board that he is opposed to sending activity buses down the winding roads of U.S. 64 toward Cashiers and Sapphire, but he would review the issue to see if improvements in the roadway warranted a change in the policy.

Currently, activity buses for school sporting events are not allowed to travel “through the mountains” and instead must travel via I-40.

Three parents who attended the retreat expressed their concerns about the current route.

Parent Rance Jones said he is most concerned about the safety of the current bus routes.

“I think the safest way is to go the way they’ve always gone, which is through the mountains, not down I-40,” he said.

Jones said he would at least like the athletic director or coaches to have the option of traveling that route if weather permitted.

Parent April McNeely said the chances of activity buses being in an accident is greater on the interstate route because of the sheer number of vehicles and the higher rates of speed. She said she would rather the buses go through Jackson County.

“I would feel far more comfortable if those buses were going up through Cashiers and down 107,” she said.

McNeely said the high speeds of other vehicles, especially trailer trucks, were her biggest worry.

McNeely acknowledged that there are always risks with any sport and activity, but said she believes those risks can be reduced.

McNeely’s husband, Mack, reiterated what the other speakers said was their biggest concern: safety.

He said that after researching the rules that school bus and activity bus drivers are supposed to follow, he was shocked to see how many bus drivers have exceeded their driving time.

McNeely said he was concerned that the drivers of the buses could be exceeding the imposed limits, noting that a Rosman bus returned recently at 1:30 a.m.

After the meeting, School Superintendent McDaris said that he was uncertain if the hourly limits applied to school bus drivers in the same way that they do to truck drivers.

McNeely also argued that the four-lane highways and interstates in this area are some of the most dangerous in the state.

“In the four or five years that the school system has been going around (toward Asheville), the roads have been improved,” he said.

McNeely said improvements include widening, repaving and new guardrails.

April McNeely was also concerned with the amount of instructional time missed during the course of a season.

She said her daughter missed three and a half days over a period of less than two months during volleyball season this year. McDaris said that five years ago a state Division of Motor Vehicle official told him that it was safer to go around the mountains than through them with the big buses. At that time, McDaris took their recommendations and put in procedures to reflect those recommendations.

McDaris said there are conflicting reports on the safety of each route. He said DMV representatives and Highway Patrol officers believe the longer route along the interstates is safer.

He said he has also heard from owner/operators of tractor trailer trucks who say the other way is safer.

McDaris said that the cost issue was not really a factor because with both options the amount of diesel burned is largely the same.

He also said that during the decision making process he polled other administrators about the issue and got a positive response regarding the school system's decision to reroute their buses around the curviest sections of highway, saying they found it to be safer to travel through Asheville on the more major thoroughfares.

Board Chairman Chris Whitmire said that he would like to see an indepth review of the recent improvements to the road to see if those changes merit a reexamination of the issue.

“There are some valid reasons to not just assume that the safe and same way is the best way of doing things,” he said. “It’s not a point of consternation, but it’s a point to see if there are smarter ways to do things.”

Whitmire said that safety is paramount for everyone, but if there is a way to save the students time and allow them to stay in school longer, those options should be examined. Justice said he would be glad to look into the feasibility of driving through the mountains via U.S. 64 in order to provide the board with more information to determine what the best option really is.

Whitmire said that in the past there have been problems with buses “wearing out” because of the mountain roads. He suggested looking to other school systems in the region to see what they have been doing to lessen those problems.

“If you put 66 students on a bus, but the bus doesn’t fit all of the routes, maybe the next bus purchase should be a little smaller,” Whitmire suggested.

Whitmire believes the “considerable improvements” in the road that have been made will make those roads more easily traveled by buses.

Justice said that if the board agrees that going over the mountain is safer than going down I-40 he would be glad to make that change.


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