Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bus line refusing to travel Dryden highway

Any Muskie teams with games in Dryden, or Sioux Lookout or Red Lake, will have to follow the musical advice of Supertramp and take the long way home—and the way there, for that matter.
Iron Range Bus Lines has cancelled any trips that involve driving on Highway 502 for the past two weeks, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The service shutdown is a result of what the company believes are unsatisfactory conditions on the main link between here and Dryden.
“We are not travelling the 502 because the road is not maintained,” said Camie Gray, office manager for the Fort Frances branch of Iron Range.
“There is no cell service,” she added.
“The safety of our children is more important than dollars and cents,” Gray stressed.
“It is just not safe to travel on.”
The Muskie senior girls’ volleyball team was the first to experience the altered travel arrangements when it attended a pre-season tournament Dec. 6-7 in Dryden.
The school’s athletic teams now have to go up Highway 71 to the Kenora turn-off, then travel east along the Trans-Canada (Highway 17) to reach Dryden.
That means the usual two-hour journey now will take four hours both ways, which, in turn, will have a significant impact on Fort High’s athletic budget.
Travel costs for one trip to Dryden has jumped an estimated 75 percent.
“Our transportation budget is the No. 1 item in our athletic budget,” noted Fort High athletic director Shane Beckett.
“It’s not only increased gas costs but also with double the driving hours, it’s double the cost to hire a driver.
“That stretch of road from Kenora to Vermilion Bay isn’t known as being the greatest, either,” Beckett added.
“So there’s still a safety issue.”
Beckett said there will be an automatic inconvenience to student-athletes for any trips to Dryden or beyond, with students having to arrive at the school extra early to make sure the team arrives for its scheduled game time and then coming back to the Fort significantly later, as well.
“You look at our hockey teams who start their games in the evening,” noted Beckett. “They get off the ice usually at around 9:30 p.m. and that means they won’t be home until sometime around 2 a.m.
“And then they’re expected to go to school the next day.”
Beckett said the possibility exists of having to trim the athletic budget in other areas to compensate for the new cost increase.
“We might have to do without new uniforms for teams, and it’s going to put more of the burden of fundraising on the team members and their families,” he stressed.
“We don’t have the option of just taking it out of the textbook money,” Beckett noted.
“There’s not a magical money fairy that’s going to come along and give us more money.”
Beckett said the school is contractually obligated to Iron Range, which makes it impossible to deal with another transportation company that may consider Highway 502 safe enough to travel.
“It’s unfortunate this situation has occurred because of the state of our highways,” said Rainy River District School Board trustee Dan Belluz, adding he doesn’t feel the roads in southern Ontario would be left in such a treacherous state.
“I would like to see municipalities and school boards write the premier and make our complaints known,” he remarked.
Belluz stressed safety of the students is very important to the school board and understands why Iron Range doesn’t want to travel on Highway 502.
“It’s unfortunate. I feel sorry for the sports teams,” he said, noting he’s aware parents already contribute funds, as well as participating in various fundraising efforts, in order to pay for the cost of travelling.
“Obviously, the trips are costing more to go around,” noted Laura Mills, superintendent of business for the local public school board.
“So right now it’s up to the school to manage their budget.”
Mills explained the board allocates a certain amount of money to the schools for operation for the year, as well as some additional money for transportation.
“So it makes it an additional cost for Fort Frances High School,” she conceded.
“They need to operate within the funds they’ve been given; allocate their funds how they see fit.”
But Mills added during budget consultations next year, the school would be able to provide some input—possibly requesting more funds for the additional expense occurred by the added travel time.

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