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WYTHEVILLE — The question of whether Carroll County school buses will use U.S. 52 south instead of Interstate 77 has been transported to the Virginia General Assembly’s 2013 session.
Del. Anne B. Crockett-Stark (R-Wytheville) has submitted House Bill No. 1416 for consideration, a simply worded proposal that would exempt Carroll’s buses from the weight limits that keep commercial trucks off the south U.S. 52 corridor.
The bill says that “no vehicle weight limit applicable to other vehicles traveling south on U.S. Route 52 on Fancy Gap Mountain shall apply to school buses traveling south on U.S. 52 at that location."
School buses can already go north on 52 from Cana to Fancy Gap, but get caught by the 8-ton weight restrictions for southbound travel.
“All I’m trying to do is be able to get school buses to use the mountain both ways but not trucks,” Crockett-Stark told The Gazette.
She submitted this request at the behest of parents of students, as well as Phil McCraw, the Fancy Gap District representative on the Carroll County Board of Supervisors.
Parents wanted the school system to have the option to detour the buses from the heavily traveled interstate to U.S. 52, Crockett-Stark said.
Interstate 77 in Fancy Gap has become notorious as a place for high traffic speeds, crowded conditions, dense fog and brisk winds \ factors that can combine to cause chain reaction accidents and long backups.
U.S. 52 suffers from some of the same problems, but some people believe it could be the safer bet for the school buses.
“For the children, I want to do everything in my power to help those who are concerned,” Crockett-Stark said.
Carroll Schools’ Superintendent Strader Blankenship has been consulting with the Virginia Department of Transportation on the buses on 52 issue, so Crockett-Stark’s bill was a bit unexpected.
“Either way it works, as long as we get the result,” he reacted last week. “We would be in favor of that change. I think most of the folks in that area would be in favor of that change.”
The weight limits just incidentally caught the school buses in the state’s attempt to keep commercial trucks from becoming runaway hazards on the mountainous road and to keep commercial truck drivers to use 52 as a way to sneak past the North Carolina weigh station on Interstate 77, as Blankenship understands it.
Activity buses are light enough they can use 52 South now, he added.
Parents at public hearings on possible changes to the grade structure at St. Paul School last year raised the dangers of more students and more school buses having to travel on Interstate 77, if the school board had decided to move the sixth and/or seventh grade to the Carroll County Middle from the Cana school.
It was then that School Board Chairman Brian Spencer wondered aloud why buses couldn’t use U.S. 52.
“They go down [the steeply inclined] Bent Mountain to go to Roanoke County," he said during the November meeting.
Spencer added that he'd personally rather drive on 52 than 77 when it's foggy.