Everyone familiar with the Cullasaja Gorge Road (Highway 64) dreads seeing an 18-wheeler in front of them because they know they’re in for the long haul. Four-axle and larger trucks are not allowed to travel up or down the Gorge Road and there is signage notifying truck drivers of that fact. Some town officials think more needs to be done.
Tonight at the 7 p.m. the Town Board of Commissioners meeting at the Community Building the board will discuss the issue of trucks along the Gorge Road and signage. Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor has drafted a statement to local representatives seeking assistance working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The statement reads:
The current sign system advising tractor trailer trucks not to use the Gorge Road does not work. Flashing signs that are activated by radar when large trucks approach should be installed at both ends of US 64, the Gorge Road. One sign should be located before the truck turn around at the Franklin end. It would tell truckers to stop and use the turn around. In Highlands a sign could be placed on US 64 before the intersection for NC 106 and 1st Street. This sign would order truckers to use NC 106 instead of the Gorge Road. Heavy fines could be imposed for noncompliance. I intend to ask help from our legislative delegation in instituting this plan.
Town Manager Josh Ward agrees that the current signage is not getting the job done.
“They (DOT) made the turnaround a few years ago and the mayor asked for some additional signage, which they did – they added red stripes at the top and bottom,” said Ward. “But it hasn’t made a bit of difference with traffic issues in the gorge. We just had one last week.”
Around 2:30 last Thursday afternoon, 9-1-1 was called about a flat-bed, 18-wheeler that first ignored the signage and the turn-around on the Highlands Road, proceeded up past the Buck Creek turnoff and on through the gorge. At the first “snake” the truck pinned a car against the rock cliff stopping traffic both coming and going.
NC Highway Patrol was on scene within minutes of the call. After the pinned car was able to maneuver away from the truck, the truck driver continued around the curve. Highway Patrol had asked the two vehicles behind the truck to move as close to the gorge side as possible, so she could hopscotch her way toward the truck.
Just before the truck entered the second snake, the Highway Patrol officer was able to get out of her vehicle, jog up to the truck and demand that the driver stop.
She called Highlands PD to stop traffic traveling down the Gorge Road – which it did at Bridal Veil Falls. When all the vehicles already in the pipeline had traveled past the stopped truck and it was clear that no other vehicles would be coming down, she escorted the truck up to Highlands where the driver was issued a citation. At that point, vehicles were able to resume the trek down the mountain.
The current signage, the truck turnaround to divert trucks from traveling to Highlands and the accompanying information station outlining alternate routes is the result of years of complaints and traffic incidents.
The turnaround was completed in 2015 and is located on the south side of the Highlands Road and west side of Highland Park Lane in Franklin — opposite the vacant lot where the circus sets up each year. However, few people have ever seen an 18-wheeler use the turnaround.
The existing road is a narrow, two-lane road with sharp curves, a steep grade and a low stone wall between the travel-way and descent into the Cullasaja River Gorge.
Article by Brian O’Shea
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