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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK A Farmington Public Schools bus turns Tuesday, May 7, 2019, onto Gibson Hill Road from Wesley Stevens Road. Washington County is working with local school districts to identify and improve some of the narrow, dangerous county roads that double as bus routes.

FAYETTEVILLE -- County roads aren't a political issue for Andrea Jenkins, one of Washington County's nine new justices of the peace. They're a daily obstacle course.

Jenkins took office in January representing District 10, which includes Farmington where she teaches and drives a bus with the school district. She drives routes with 60 or more students twice a day over roads that range from asphalt paving to gravel. Some are comfortable two-lane roads while others are a tight fit for her school bus alone.

She said the issue of roads became prominent with the Quorum Court and county government through a discussion on the proposed Heritage Farms dirt mine off Wedington Drive west of Fayetteville. Justices of the peace talked about the prospect of dump trucks sharing the roads with school buses.

Carl Gales, chief of staff for County Judge Joseph Wood, told the Quorum Court's County Services Committee recently that the county is working on a five-year master plan for its roads. Jenkins said she's thrilled to see a goal of evaluating roads and prioritizing those most in need of repair or improvements.

"I didn't really know if the county would be that interested in the bus routes," Jenkins said. "I thought the school district would have to get more involved. But dealing with Heritage Farms, I was thinking more as a bus driver how unsafe some of those roads are."

Jim Hendricks is transportation director for the Farmington School District. He said the district has notified the county of problem areas in the past but having a comprehensive plan should benefit the school district. Hendricks said the district has about 2,250 students. About 1,250 students ride the bus daily. Hendricks said about 600 of those students are on rural bus routes. He said the county Road Department has been responsive to problems reported by the school district in the past.

"We've got several dirt roads that are constantly washing out," he said. "They're constantly repairing them. They really help us out when we have problems."

Hendricks said narrow roads with little or no shoulders are among the biggest problems. He's had buses slide off the roadway several times. He said when buses and other vehicles driving in opposite directions meet, it creates a situation where one vehicle has to back up to a wider spot in the road to let the other pass.

"It's a whole lot easier to back up a minivan than it is a 40-foot-long school bus," Hendricks said.

Harvey Bowman, chairman of the County Services Committee, said safety has always been a concern, but he agreed the discussion surrounding the Heritage Farms project brought that concern to the forefront.

"I think that's always been a priority," he said. "Out there by that dirt pit that road is ridiculous. The problem is and always has been we've got limited funds and limited people to do the work that needs to be done."

Gales said the county has asked the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission to work with it on the master plan.

Elizabeth Bowen, a project manager with the Regional Planning Commission, said she is working with the information the county is gathering to set up a plan for regular maintenance and for improvements to county roads.

Bowen said the county is providing traffic counts where that information has been collected, any information on traffic congestion complaints, the age and condition of the roads and the county's maintenance history on each road. She said a first draft of a master road plan could be delivered to the county sometime this month.

Metro on 05/13/2019

Print Headline: County looks at roads on school bus routes

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