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School buses go the extra half-mile

Thu., Aug. 30, 2007

Parents at the Parkside apartments in Spokane Valley can see Trent Elementary from where a school bus picks up their children to take them across the street.

Although the East Valley School District plans to reduce busing close to schools, children at the complex near I-90 still must be driven to class because delayed roadwork has yet to provide a safe way across busy Pines Road.

“It would just be easier; we wouldn’t have to stand here,” Angel May said of walking to the nearby elementary as she watched her son, Isaac, wait for the bus on the first day of school Wednesday.

Additionally, she said, students from the apartments don’t have time to take advantage of the school breakfast program because the bus arrives at Trent just before the bell rings.

Anticipating the impact on roads from two large apartment complexes and other development in the area, Spokane Valley brokered an agreement with landowners there to help pay to reconfigure the Pines freeway interchange and add stoplights at Mansfield Avenue and Mirabeau Parkway.

Some of the land is owned by a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Initially scheduled for last summer, then rescheduled for this summer, the road project now is delayed until the spring because of problems acquiring right of way, said Spokane Valley Senior Engineer Steve Worley.

It’s still uncertain whether the traffic on Mirabeau Parkway, where children would cross, will reach the level required by the state before a light can be installed.

“Everybody would like to have it in, but we have certain requirements that have to be met,” Worley said.

The project’s delay, though, increases the odds of the light being installed because an expansion planned at the Pinecroft Business Park will add traffic to Mirabeau Parkway.

Train tracks, the freeway, busy roads, the Spokane River and sparse sidewalks cause buses to pick up many students in Spokane Valley who would otherwise be within walking distance of their schools.

As part of efforts to shore up its budget, East Valley School District plans to require more children to walk, expanding the boundary for bus service from one-half mile from a school to 1 mile.

Districtwide, there are about 25 bus stops within a mile of the school they serve, said transportation supervisor Paul Vigil. But even with the new rules, more than half of those will remain because of safety concerns.

Stops like the one at Parkside don’t add a lot to the district’s transportation budget, he said, but the state distributes funds for busing based on students picked up a mile or more from where they go to school.

“We lose funding for those students because they’re within that mile,” Vigil said.

The problem isn’t limited to the East Valley district.

West Valley School District is crisscrossed by so many train tracks, busy roads and other obstacles that busing is available districtwide, said spokeswoman Sue Shields.

“It’s just what we have to do. We have to get the kids there safe,” she said.

In the Central Valley School District, many students at Ponderosa and Progress elementaries take the bus within the district’s one-mile walking radius because of safety concerns, while other schools have a large proportion of their students who can walk to class, said district spokeswoman Melanie Rose.


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