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VDOT approves safety improvements to reduce danger at bus stops

POSTED: 05:50 PM EST Dec 18, 2013    UPDATED: 09:18 PM EST Dec 18, 2013 

VDOT approves safety improvements to reduce danger at bus stops

BOTETOURT CO., Va. -

A follow up to a story we brought you in April: school administrators in Botetourt County say some of its school bus stops along Routes 460 and 220 aren't safe.

The school system just got a green light to make it safer.

Transportation officials in Botetourt County noticed more incidents involving buses when the speed limit on route 460 was raised to 60 miles an hour.

School leaders admit they've pestered the Virginia Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit near Colonial Elementary off Webster Road, but with no success.

Instead, VDOT will allow the school system to put up flashing school zone along the highway.

The other safety improvement is cameras on the school buses.

If a driver runs past a stopped school bus on the same side of the road, the bus can take a picture of that car's license plate, which can lead to ticket.

School officials say they'll continue to lobby getting the speed limit lowered, but this is a step in the right direction.

Botetourt County will spend close to $12,000 making these sign and camera upgrades.

Original story from April (http://bit.ly/1epeq6G):

WDBJ7 SPECIAL REPORT: Danger at the bus stop

High speed roads are the only option for some bus stops.

POSTED: 08:39 AM EDT Apr 29, 2013    UPDATED: 06:48 PM EDT Apr 29, 2013 

WDBJ7 Special Report: Danger at the bus stop

BOTETOURT CO., Va. -

We all know if a school closes in the winter-time, it's it's probably because the roads aren't safe.  But for many students all over Southwest and Central Virginia, getting to school can be unsafe every single day.

Big yellow school buses can't maneuver on old, narrow roads.  Often there aren't turning lanes to go into some neighborhoods.  That means there are times when the buses have to stop on main roads; a danger when those roads are hilly and the speed limits are high.

When a car dealer tries to sell you a car, they may tell you how long it takes to go from 0 to 60.  In Botetourt County and other counties across our area, they want to know how fast it goes from 60 to 0.

When a school bus stops on your side of the road, you have to stop too.  But on highways like Route 460 where the speed limit goes as high as 60 miles an hour, Sergeant Steve Flint says stopping is something people don't want to do.

"When they see the big bus, the big yellow bus with the flashing lights on it to be aware, it's probably going to stop," Flint says.

On average, ten cars a week pass Kitty Wiekel's stopped bus.  Her route is on Route 460 in Blue Ridge, on the Roanoke-Botetourt County Line.

"There's been times where, you know, looking in your rear-view mirror that car's going to run you, but there's nothing you can do, your attention is focused on the safety of the kids," Weikel says.

Even scarier are the tractor trailers that do try to stop.  Five have lost control behind her stopped school bus in the past two years.

The closest call came last December when a logging truck flipped as Weikel dropped kids off at the corner of Heritage Road and Route 460.

"When I seen the truck flipping and the kids had just got off my bus, I yelled at them Run! Run!" Weikel said.

Stephanie Orange's son, Cody, was on the bus that December morning.

"Just to think that if the truck would have hit the bus or if someone would have been waiting in the median, the truck could have killed somebody. It's scary," Orange said.

"Would you ever get over it if you hit a small child? Could you live with that? Because these are precious people," were Weikel's words to drivers who are careless around buses.

So why has this become an issue lately?  Two years ago, the speed limit on some roads jumped.

When cars cross into Botetourt County on Route 460, the speed limit jumps up to 60 miles an hour.  Right next to that speed limit sign on 460 is another reminder; school buses stop on this road.

Botetourt County transportation director Morris Gill says the rise in these close calls is a direct result of the higher speed limit.  Gill's office wrote a letter to the governor asking to lower it.

The response:

"60 mile an hour is a safe speed for that road, so we feel we've done about everything we can do," was what the Governor's office sent to Gill.

"I hope it doesn't have to wait for a tragic event before it does. I'd like to see some progress," Gill added.

Parents with children on these roads want progress as well.

"It needs to be slower," Bradley Puckett said when picking up his two children from their bus stop.

"It makes me really nervous just to think that there's kids on the bus, you know?" Orange added.

Parents, teachers and administrators in Botetourt County are convinced that it's only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.

They say a stopped bus on Route 460 is a sitting duck.

The Botetourt County school system really feels like it's done everything it can to make these stops safe.

Student's aren't allowed to cross in front of the bus on four-lane highways. The school district has also amended several routes, and drivers have the ability to have cars pulled over if they catch the license plate when those cars pass.

Maybe the most telling sign of the dangers of these stops - Kitty Weikel says the buses are full at the beginning of the year.

By the end of the year, ridership among the students on 460 drops by half.

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