JCPS bus driver stuck on I-71: 'There was no way around it'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- At 2:42 p.m. Wednesday, an accident involving a semi, an RV and a dump truck on Interstate 71 near the Gene Snyder caused a major traffic delay that ended up stranding thousands of motorists.

Soon after, Jefferson County Public Schools officials radioed hundreds of its bus drivers, many of them utilizing I-71 in downtown in order to get students to the Wilhoit bus compound on Murphy Lane in eastern Jefferson County.

But for eight of those bus drivers who were transporting about 400 students -- it was too late.

"I got onto the interstate around 2:40 p.m., I remember because I looked to see how I was doing on time and I remember thinking that I was doing pretty good with it being the first day and all," one JCPS bus driver told WDRB on Thursday. 

"I was already stuck in traffic," the driver said. "No one was moving. And there was no way around it."

The normal ride for the students on those buses is about 20-25 minutes, officials say.

On Wednesday, it was not until 5:20 p.m. that emergency crews began to evacuate students from the highway by blocking the southbound lanes of I-71, which allowed the buses to cross the median so they could exit onto the Watterson Expressway and head to Ballard High School, where parents were told to go in order to pick up their kids.

The last student was picked up around 7 p.m., officials said.

Allison Martin, a district spokesperson, said an employee assigned to work at Metrosafe on Wednesday "immediately notified us" after the accident was reported and that transportation dispatchers notified the drivers.

"They were told to avoid Interstate 71," she said. "The problem is that many of them were already on Interstate 71."

In addition, the district sent out an alert to employees using an automated One Call system to those on the emergency list around 3:05 p.m., letting them know that the interstate was closed.

Dozens of other buses and hundreds of other students were also impacted by the accident because the eight buses that were stranded are also used to pick up elementary school students at 3:45 p.m.

Martin said the district was able to route different buses to pick up those students.

"Given the circumstances, we did the best we could," Martin said.

An ambulance was sent to help the kids who have complained about heat exhaustion. Dispatchers added that a wrecker was there to try to clear the scene as soon as possible. 

The interstate reopened just after 8:30 p.m.

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