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Garrison Avenue weight limit blocks school buses

Kenny Kemp
Kanawha County school officials say their school buses won't be able to travel a section of Garrison Avenue in Charleston because of a 5-ton weight limit on part of the street.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Earlier this week, more than 80 families living near Garrison Avenue in Charleston were told they'd have to find alternate school transportation for their students because the road could not support the weight of a school bus.

By Thursday afternoon, officials with Kanawha County Schools and the city of Charleston had brought that number of affected families down to less than 15, citing a misunderstanding -- but they still had no long-term solution for the problem.

Although signs warning of a 5-ton weight limit have been posted along parts of Garrison Avenue for more than a year, according to City Engineer Chris Knox, school transportation officials did not notice the signs until recently.

"We hadn't received any notice of it, or I guess our drivers did not observe it or report it, and now we know we have a problem," said George Beckett, head of transportation for Kanawha County Schools.

It's a problem because the county's empty school buses weigh 10 tons each. When filled with students, they weigh 16.5 tons each, Beckett said.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones gave the school system permission to continue running the bus route along Garrison Avenue until Thursday, the last day of the semester, Beckett said. Kanawha County Schools sent an automated voice message to parents Wednesday evening, warning them of potential changes to the bus route.

The issue is with a section of the roadway that stretches for about nine-tenths of a mile, from the mouth of Garrison Avenue to Pacific Street, according to Knox.

That area cannot sustain more than 5 tons because of a corroding culvert that was installed in the early 1970s, according to Knox.

The city repaired the bottom of the culvert this summer by filling it with sand to stop the corrosion, though, and the weight limit is just a precaution, the engineer said.

"We're not worried about the pipe failing," Knox said. "It's just a precaution as the backfill settles into the voids that have been created over the years."

The remaining part of Garrison Avenue beyond Pacific Street is safe, he said.

The imposed weight limit at the bottom of Garrison Avenue will affect the bus route home for seven Watts Elementary School students and several students from Stonewall Jackson Middle School, according to Beckett.

Starting in January, those students will have to get themselves to the new bus stop, which would be located less than one mile from their original stop, Beckett said.

"I don't have any vehicle that's light enough to go through that area at all," Beckett said. "For those kids, the plan is to adjust schedules and to get the kids to school on time . . .  . The furthest parents would have to drive is less than a mile.

"At this point, it seems like it's going to have to be the long-term plan. It's a major project for the city to make those repairs. I'm hopeful the money will be appropriated and we won't have this inconvenience in the future."

Knox said to totally replace the road would cost about $10 million, and while repairs are possible, he doesn't think it's necessary.

"I don't think it needs replaced," he said. "What we did to it this summer will buy us another 15 years."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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