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Sunday, April 14, 2013
Blevins is a small business owner. Her children attend Montgomery County Schools.
I am writing in hopes of promoting awareness of the safety concerns and threats to our children, teachers and staff at Falling Branch Elementary.
Additionally, I hope to gain the support of leaders and citizens for the relocation of the park and ride off Interstate 81’s Exit 118A.
The park and ride is directly across from Falling Branch Elementary School. The close proximity and the lack of regulations at that facility have created unwanted security issues.
Please understand that, while I and many families are supportive of public transportation and the value it represents, we are not willing to risk or jeopardize the safety of our children.
The park and ride, maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportaion, is in Montgomery County. The lot was designed to be a small commuter lot. Over the years, the lot’s convenient location and accessibility directly off I-81 has made it successful — too successful. The lot is well over its capacity. The lot has become essentially a commercial bus stop with the Megabus (traveling from Tennessee, New York and Washington, D.C.), Smartway and Blacksburg Transit currently picking up and dropping off at this location. This is in addition to local commuters who park there. Megabus alone estimates 2,200 patrons a month utilize this facility.
This commercial bus stop is used by thousands of people every month. However, the site is not equipped to handle the number of patrons.
There is one portable toilet and a very small shelter at this location. There are no other amenities to accommodate the patrons here. The lot has no regulations on who may use the lot or for how long. The lot has not been properly regulated or monitored. This is a great concern.
In an interview with The Roanoke Times (“School, bus stop are uneasy pair,” Feb. 13, news story), school system spokeswoman Brenda Drake stated that school officials constantly deal with two to five incidents a month in which people thought to be bus patrons walk into the school. This is unacceptable.
With the acknowledgment of the safety issues, the Christiansburg Town Council has responded exceptionally well by facilitating meetings with the school board, board of supervisors, VDOT and parents and placing an officer at the school. The council immediately placed a police officer on campus, with the school board’s approval to help handle any immediate situations. The town acknowledges that this is a threat. We are very grateful for Christiansburg’s support.
We are asking the school board and county to help fund the placement of an officer at the school until the threat is removed.
All bus services have been contacted by the town to make them aware of the problems and encourage them to educate their patrons that the school is off-limits. The bus services have agreed to inform all patrons not to enter school grounds.
The school board has begun to implement and is in the process of working on safeguards. It has been in close contact with VDOT, the Christiansburg Police Department and other stakeholders, officially asking for long-term solutions. Again, we are grateful for the steps and procedures the school board has taken. It will continue to be involved and work to keep the school safe.
However, it has no control over the park and ride.
VDOT has been responsive with short-term goals. It is sensitive to our situation.
But until the park and ride is relocated, there will always be a potential threat for the school.
With the increased measures, signs and awareness, please know that some patrons continue to blatantly disobey the law. Some patrons have a total disregard for the safety and security of our school.
The only true solution is to relocate the park and ride to a more suitable area that could accomplish the goals and benefits of public transportation while accommodating the patrons with amenities, including possible revenue for the county (lodging, restaurants, shopping, shelter) without jeopardizing the safety, security and welfare of the surrounding community.
I encourage all residents and leaders of Christiansburg and Montgomery County to assist and support us. Please let your officials, local and state, know you support Falling Branch Elementary and would like to relocate the park and ride.
Everyone should share in the responsibility to keep our children safe. There are too many warning signs for this to be ignored. Again, we appreciate everyone’s support. I and parents at Falling Branch will continue to advocate vigilantly for our children.
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