Truck drivers who ignored signs posting weight restrictions along the Gorge Road on Thursday may have made an unexpected stop because the North Carolina State Highway Patrol conducted an exercise targeting commercial vehicles and used a mobile scale to check trucks’ weight.
The specialized Motor Carrier Enforcement unit set up a mobile weigh station at the Highlands Community Building to make sure all vehicles that were stopped are within the 20,000-pound weight limit.
“It gives us a safe place to do it, so once we pull them over, we drive them back here and do the inspection,” said State Trooper Sgt. Gregg Dills, part of the MCE unit.
Dills’ unit specializes in improving driver safety by monitoring vehicle travel to decrease commercial-vehicle related fatalities. Before Thursday’s enforcement action, Dills met with Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell and Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor to discuss the issue of trucks driving up the Gorge.
“It’s an area that needs to be addressed,” said Dills. “I met with the Mayor and Chief and discussed getting some stricter rules in place. It comes down to drivers obeying the signs.”
But it’s not always the driver ignoring signage. Harrell said approximately 98 percent of drivers found in violation of road restrictions said their employers sent them along this route.
“The way the statute is written now, it would be an injustice to think these drivers have the time to read the fine print and know it front to back,” said Harrell. “Most of the blame goes to the dispatchers. That’s who send them this way. And the majority of drivers don’t want to come back here once they’ve been here.”
He added that many transportation companies are willing to take the ticket in violation for the more direct route.
“They’re not working for the truckers, they’re working for themselves,” said Harrell. “They don’t understand that even though it’s shorter on the map, it’s very tedious.”
So, what happens to repeat-carrier offenders who want to keep taking the ticket for the more direct route? Dills said that’s when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency in charge of all commercial travel in the United States, gets involved.
“These guys step in when carriers don’t obey,” said Dills. “They basically have the authority to shut them down and put them out of business, but it takes a lot to get to that point. Basically, I think the best thing to do is restrict all commercial traffic in the Cullasaja Gorge.”
Harrell said tractor-trailers are allowed to make deliveries up the mountain as long as their destination location is along the Gorge Road or an adjoining-side road.
This is an ongoing issue that has been discussed at Highlands Board of Commissioner’s meetings about working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to add some improvements to the signage or other systems to draw more attention to the restrictions of the Gorge Road. Taylor sent a letter to state representatives encouraging legislation that would ban tractor-trailer traffic coming up the mountain and asks area residents to do the same.
“I have written a letter concerning tractor-trailer trucks on the Gorge Road to Representative Kevin Corbin and Senator Jim Davis,” said Taylor. “I will request a follow up meeting with them to request new state legislation that would ban all tractor-trailer trucks on the Gorge Road regardless of the number of axils on the truck. This change would help law enforcement officers apply the law consistently. I encourage concerned citizens to contact their legislators requesting such a change.”
As of press time, it is unknown how many trucks were stopped or how many citations were issued at Thursday’s enforcement exercise.
Representative Kevin Corbin
P.O. Box 758, Franklin, N.C., 28744
Senator Jim Davis
37 Georgia Road, Franklin, N.C., 28734
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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