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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published May 19 2013

School bus driver says Oil Patch traffic danger makes her job more important than ever

WILLISTON, N.D. – Tana Turcotte has figured out a way she can make sure her kids get safely to school in the Oil Patch.

She volunteered to drive the school bus.

The Alexander woman said intense oil field traffic in the once-quiet town means her job as a school bus driver is not particularly fun. Turcotte has to cross U.S. Highway 85 in Alexander 10 times during her route, a drive she doesn’t take lightly.

“Safety is a huge risk out here driving bus,” Turcotte said. “People are dying left and right.”

Turcotte, who has been driving a school bus in Alexander for four years, said she used to let students come to the front of the bus if they needed to talk to her. Now students are instructed to stay in their seats.

“You cannot take your eyes off the road for a second,” said Turcotte, who brought students to Williston on Friday for a field trip.

School bus drivers now pick up students who are close enough to walk to school but can’t because of the dangerous highway traffic, she said.

Local first-responders recently bought equipment to monitor traffic counts and violations. Turcotte said the monitors found that 80 percent of the 17,000 vehicles per day violated traffic regulations.

Last week she saw a pickup going 45 mph in a 25-mph zone at 7:55 a.m. as students were heading to school.

“That irks me,” Turcotte said. “They could wipe them out in a second.”

The Alexander School District enrolled about 125 students this year in grades K-12, with many coming and going throughout the year, said Michelle Simonson, elementary principal.

Three years ago, enrollment was 53, she said.

Turcotte said it’s sometimes a challenge to find new housing developments that are popping up around town. Her route now includes stops at two different crew camps.

While other Oil Patch districts have had difficulties retaining bus drivers, Turcotte said she and many of the Alexander bus drivers continue driving because they also have kids who ride the bus.

Simonson said she’s grateful for the bus drivers.

“I wouldn’t want their job, that’s for sure,” Simonson said.

Turcotte has kids in preschool, first and third grades and said she may continue driving the bus until they graduate.

“If it stays like this, my kids won’t drive to school,” Turcotte said.