Monday, July 13, 2020

Bus safety alliance making a difference

| May 24, 2020 1:00 AM

There’s a saying in Montana about taking the bull by the horns.

That’s exactly what a grassroots group of locals has done when it comes to improving bus stop safety across Northwest Montana. Jordana’s Alliance for Bus Safety is leading this critical effort to protect our students — because there’s no time to wait for the slow-moving arms of bureaucracy.

It was just last November when 6-year-old Jordana Hubble was hit by a red-runner after she exited a school bus on U.S. 93 north of Whitefish. Hubble was trying to cross the highway when she was struck by the vehicle that failed to stop, despite the bus’ red lights and stop sign arm being fully activated. Hubble has been recovering at Nexus Children’s Hospital in Texas since the incident.

As a former bus driver who has seen his share of red-runners, Dennis “Griz” Woldstad said the tragedy shook him to the core. Not willing to wait around for others to take the initiative, Woldstad got to work forming the alliance.

“I promised as long as I was drawing breath, I was going to make it better,” Woldstad told the Inter Lake.

His efforts are already paying off. Last week, Flathead Electric Cooperative’s Roundup for Safety program awarded a $5,000 grant that will be dispersed to Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish school districts to purchase 6-foot-long bus stop arms that extend all the way across the oncoming lane of traffic.

“A lot of studies show these longer swing arms significantly reduce cars illegally passing school buses and that’s one of our goals,” said state Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, who has been working with Woldstad on the alliance.

Bigfork School District began installing these long stop arms on its buses in 2018 through a pilot program. This year, the district saw less than a handful of red-runners, district Transportation Director Rob Tracy noted.

“They work, people notice them and it’s was well worth the investment, not to mention the peace of mind knowing we are trying to do everything within our power to keep our kids safe,” he said.

Our thoughts and prayers remain with Jordana as she continues her recovery. The tragedy struck a chord in our communities, and we’re thankful for Woldstad’s and the entire alliance’s efforts to make sure it never happens again.

Folks who want to donate to Jordana’s Alliance for Bus Safety should contact the Flathead Community Foundation at 756-9047.