Closed bridge could mean extra fuel costs for Harrison Co school buses

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County students head back to school Thursday, and some of them better make sure they get to the bus stop a little earlier than usual. The closure of the Lorraine Road Bridge is forcing the school district to find alternate routes and rearrange some schedules.

Expect the buses to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier in the morning and drop you off a little later in the afternoon. Along with the inconvenience, the route changes and detours have raised concerns about the rising cost of running the buses.

Drivers of eight Harrison County school buses are having to learn the longer way to get around the closed Lorraine Road Bridge. The route changes will affect students in major subdivisions like Ashton Oak, Oakleigh Manor, Plummer Circle and Biloxi River Estates, along with trailer parks and homes near the bridge.

"Run your normal routes, but go the new detour route, because it's going to make a lot of difference," said Transportation Director Larry Benefield, referring to the request he made to his drivers.

The detours will help them get students to and from Woolmarket Elementary, North Woolmarket Middle School, and D'Iberville High School. Benefield said the drivers have been scrambling to readjust their routes and schedules after learning that they've lost access to this major artery for school buses.

"It's hectic anyway, you know. This adds to the heartburn," said Benefield.

And adding ten miles to their commute, both in the morning and the afternoon, could mean more wear and tear on the vehicles. It could also put a big dent on the district's fuel budget.

"These things get six miles to the gallon when they're loaded down with 50-55 students. I anticipate, and this is just a professional guess, we'll be spending $10,000-$15,000 of additional monies just on diesel this year," said Benefield. "Ten thousand doesn't sound like much when you're talking about a $1.3 million [budget], but with the fluctuation of fuel, it's just crazy. It's hard to stay within that budget anyway, much less adding additional costs to our fleet."

The route changes will affect about 120-students, but Benefield says that number could go up.  Registration is still going on and he says some parents who normally drive their children to school may choose to put them on the bus instead.

"An additional ten miles on momma's car, she might decide to put them on these school buses. If she does, we've got to be prepared to take those children to school," said Benefield.

And that could mean more buses, more drivers, and a big adjustment for both drivers and parents.

"The first few days of the school are always hectic. If they'd just be patient, and if we do miss their child, please let us know. Let the school know. We'll get them. We'll come back. We don't want any child to not have an opportunity to get to school," said Benefield.

Benefield said he's hoping to avoid having to add routes and hire more drivers, because he says it's already hard finding good, dependable bus drivers.

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