Spokane Transit Authority bus driver Gabe Fernos can maneuver a 40-foot city bus with the best of them.
Fernos last month placed fourth in a national “Roadeo” competition testing the skills of the country’s best drivers – a contest that involves precise handling over a challenging series of curves and turns marked with orange cones and tennis balls.
He’s now being celebrated on a poster at the STA facilities and is becoming something of a local legend.
“I guess I like driving,” Fernos said last week.
He’s been behind the wheel of STA buses since 1992 – currently on the City Loop route starting at 4:48 a.m. – and has maintained a clean driving record. He said he looks forward to the annual competition that begins with a local Roadeo for STA drivers. The winner of the local competition goes to the national and state contests, held by the American Public Transportation Association.
This year’s national competition was May 3 in Seattle. The state competition is later this year.
Fernos said he’s the first STA driver to place so high in the national competition since retired STA driver David Losey won the contest in the 1990s.
His fourth-place finish included the top score nationally in a safety check that precedes the driving portion of the Roadeo.
Frank Bezmer, STA’s assistant transportation manager, said the competition encourages safe driving practices and helps morale, especially among the drivers who have a knack for the precision the contest requires.
“We’re awful darn proud of him,” Bezmer said.
Fernos has been locked in friendly competition for several years at STA with fellow drivers Scott Leinen and Mike Hogue, he said.
At the national competition, Fernos said he had to drive a bus that was five feet longer than the 35-footers he normally pilots and with a different mirror configuration than the one STA uses. These differences added to the challenge.
“The hardest part of it is just dealing with the nerves,” he said. “I know how to do all the exercises and I know what I need to do.”
In some of the required maneuvers, the driver cannot see the cones or other markers on the pavement because the size of the bus obstructs the view to the ground. In such cases, the competitors have to estimate distances in their heads, he said.
In addition, each competitor gets only one practice run and has only seven minutes to complete the course or they lose points.
Raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Fernos is married and raising two boys and a girl.
State seeking bids on corridor segment
The Washington Department of Transportation is seeking bids on the largest contract so far in construction of the North Spokane Corridor.
The call for bids involves construction of two bridges, final grading and road building for a four-lane segment of the route from Farwell Road to the Wandermere area, where it will join the existing U.S. Highway 395 beyond the north end of Division Street.
When completed, the estimated $60 million project will lead to opening of a 5 1/2-mile segment from Francis Avenue to Wandermere in the fall of 2011.
Moscow Mountain project moving forward
Debco Construction, of Orofino, Idaho, was the apparent low bidder on a U.S. Highway 95 project known as the Moscow Mountain passing lane north of Moscow. Debco bid $2.7 million on the project, which is being funded with federal stimulus money and will be completed by fall.