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District granted approval for additional bus stop hub

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | January 27, 2021 1:00 AM

The Whitefish School District is taking action to move another busy highway bus stop off the roadway by creating a new hub within a subdivision.

In a recent school board meeting Whitefish School District transportation director Josh Branstetter presented a proposal to move a stop on Montana Highway 40 near The Lakes subdivision to a hub just outside the community center within the residential development. The school board approved the move, and it was also OK’d by the Flathead County Transportation Board later in the week.

“I think that’s great, I would way rather get the busses and kids off Highway 40,” Whitefish School Board Chair Katie Clarke said in the meeting.

After getting unanimous approval from both the school board and Flathead County Transportation Board, the bus hub came into effect on Jan. 19 and has been running smoothly according to Branstetter.

He says the major reason for this new hub is because the stop near The Lakes has grown substantially this year with many new families moving into that area. The stop has seen an increase from around three students to nearly 10 on most days.

Although the district has already eliminated students having to cross the highway to access the bus stop, Branstetter said they wanted to look into making the route even safer.

“I think this is something that will continually be evaluated on all of our routes, are we offering the safest route for every student on our buses,” Branstetter said.

The Whitefish School District brought up the safety concern for that bus stop to Dale Duff, owner of Rocky Mountain Transportation which is the contracted company for all of the district’s transportation services, and he began to look into alternative routes.

The best route discovered will have buses pull into The Lakes subdivision off of Highway 40 and create a hub near the community center. Then the bus would continue on meandering through the residential area until meeting up with Highway 93 at JP Road.

Branstetter had to obtain approval for this change from the school board because the altered route adds 0.2 miles each way to the total mileage of the route. An increase in mileage from what was stated at the beginning of the school year requires an approval by the school board.

“It’s about a half a mile a day, over the course of a school year, there’s some funds that we can be reimbursed for,” Branstetter said prior to the school board’s vote.

“This doesn’t cost the district anything, we’re just looking to get reimbursed for the added mileage that we did not claim at the beginning of the year,” he added.

In December 2020 Branstetter led a change that was supported by the school board as well to alter the bus stops along U.S. Highway 93 South. This modification eliminated all stops on the highway and created four bus hubs for students living along that corridor to safely get on and off the school buses.

Branstetter said the district will continue to look at bus routes and alternatives that could improve safety for students and families.