After a lot of back and forth between NC Highway Patrol and the NC Department of Transportation, it looks like there is some real movement to curtail if not eliminate tractor-trailers on the Gorge Road.
At last Thursday’s Town Board meeting, Mayor Pat Taylor asked the board to OK a resolution allowing the installation of clearly identified traffic cameras on US 64 at both the Highlands and Franklin entrances. They would be used to photographically document tractor-trailer truck drivers who willfully disregard radar-activated warning signs and proceed either up or down the Gorge Road.
Several years ago, NCDOT constructed a truck turnaround in Franklin not far from the 441 intersection in hopes that after viewing the static warning signs not to proceed, they would turnaround and head for Highlands another way.
Unfortunately, truckers still disregard signage and proceed up the Gorge Road oftentimes causing accidents and at the very least snagging traffic.
Mayor Taylor said NCDOT has told him that radar-activated warning signs have been purchased and will be installed very soon at both the Highlands and Franklin entrances directing truckers not to go down or up US 64.
However, he said NCDOT would also like to use cameras to prove drivers disregarded the warning lights, but a resolution is required to make that happen.
“That is what the resolution before you is about,” said Mayor Taylor. “The proposed cameras are not to determine speed like those used on highways across the country. These cameras will be used, and a photograph of the truck will be taken, only if drivers go right past the radar-activated warning lights and proceed down or up US 64.”
Taylor said the purpose is two-fold.
“One, the radar-activated warning lights will go off and there will be signs saying ‘you will be photographed if you proceed’ and second, a photograph will provide evidence so if a charge goes to court it will show that the driver willfully violated numerous warnings,” he said. “It’s not a ticketing system, it’s a documentation system.”
Before the photographic mechanism can be considered, the NC Legislature needs to know there is a show of support in the form of a resolution signed by the Macon County Commission and the towns of Franklin and Highlands.
Once the legislature gets the resolution, it can consider and even speed up the passing of special legislation making it legal for cameras to be added as deterrents at the top and bottom of US 64.
According to Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell, the radar-activated warning signs will be calibrated only for 18-wheelers and a photograph will only be snapped if the driver disregards the warning mechanism and proceeds.
Commissioner Amy Patterson said she understood that the photograph would only be used as evidence if an “incident” with the truck occurred after bypassing the warning.
Mayor Taylor and Chief Harrell reiterated that the “incident” is disregarding the warning lights and proceeding up or down US 64 not just if the truck gets stuck or impedes traffic.
Mayor Taylor said “they are going to get stuck so there will be a problem which means state patrol can access the photograph to make the case,” he said.
Chief Harrell said witnesses usually – and are encouraged to call 911 at which point Highway Patrol responds and the photograph can be used to prove the violation.
Harrell reiterated that both the flashing warning signs and the cameras are calibrated based on mass so standard vehicles won’t activate the mechanisms.
The other issue brought to the table by the mayor involved sending a letter to Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis as well as Rep. Mark Meadows to oppose any push for heavier or longer trucks across the state put forth by the trucking industry.
“Adding any weight from the current limit of 80,000 pounds or allowing double tractor-trailers to add five feet to each trailer would only make things worse for drivers in North Carolina,” reads the letter. “The last thing our citizens need to face on the road is bigger, more dangerous tractor-trailers.”
Mayor Taylor said furthermore, USDOT found in an earlier study that trucks with more than one trailer had 11 percent higher fatal crash rates. In its most recent study, the department found the longer double-trailer trucks – like the ones under consideration in Congress – took 22 more feet to stop than twin-trailer trucks on the road today.
In his letter Taylor also cited the wear and tear these larger trucks would impose on the North Carolina highways.
“Our roadways are already in disrepair with inadequate funding being allocated to keep up with the damage caused by heavy traffic. Who will pay for the added strain on our highways?” he asked.
According to Taylor the trucking lobby is trying to get Congress to OK an increase in the tandem two-trailer configuration from the current 28 feet to 33 feet and to increase the length of one-trailer trucks to 54 feet and 10,000 pounds.
“Our highways in Western North Carolina are just not designed for that kind of weight,” said Taylor.
But Commissioner Patterson said there are two-sides to every story and asked that the issue be tabled until more information could be gathered.
“I understand this is a problem in the mountains, but saying we are against this as a blanket policy across the state, I’m just not sure. What is the reason for this in the first place?”
Commissioners will likely discuss the issue at a later date.
Pictured at the top of article are trucks pulled over at the Highlands Community Building in December 2018. To read previous article click HERE.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper