Watchdog: Targeting truck traffic
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
The sign, which depicts a tractor-trailer crossed out by a red slash, seems clear: No trucks allowed.
But for weeks, Tom Mason has watched from his window as large dump trucks carry loads to and from a location down the road from him - a subdivision he says is easily accessible from other roads that aren't labeled with "no trucks" signs.
"I live in a small, quiet neighborhood with many kids playing and riding their bikes," Mason said. "I've got a 10-year-old. There's a serious safety issue here."
Despite the "no trucks" signs on SW 137th Avenue at SW 87th Street, where Mason lives, and on roads throughout Alachua County, local law enforcement agencies and state officials said there's no law forbidding trucks from traveling on narrow residential roads - even roads with "no trucks" signs - if they're making a delivery.
They also said the "no truck zones" - which state law allows municipalities to create by posting signs to limit where large, multiple-axle trucks that are not making deliveries may drive - are all but unenforceable.
"An officer almost has to see the violator go from point A to point B without stopping to make a delivery to be able to stop them," said Sgt. Keith Faulk, a spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. "This is not one that we generally write a lot of tickets for."
Faulk said trucks are allowed to make deliveries on restricted roads even when there are other access points to the truck's delivery site.
"If one route is two miles closer than another route, there is nothing to prevent that truck from making the delivery," Faulk said. "Those signs only mean that the trucks can't use that road as a thoroughfare to cut through town on."
Mason isn't the first Alachua County resident to raise safety concerns relating to truck traffic on roads where truck traffic is restricted.
In 2003, a tractor-trailer that had just made a delivery to the Applebee's restaurant at NW 10th Avenue and 13th Street struck and killed a 9-year-old girl while she was riding her bike to school. Police determined the truck was legally driving on a residential street, despite a sign indicating "no trucks" were allowed.
Her death re-ignited a debate that has gone on for decades, according to county transportation officials.
"I've been working in transportation planning here for 30 years, and this is something that crops up again and again: Why are there through-trucks where there aren't supposed to be through-trucks, and why can't we enforce it?" asked Marlie Sanderson, director of transportation planning for the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council. "As it's been discussed over the years, it seems the one link that's hard to nail down is enforcement."
Sgt. Joe Raulerson, who oversees Gainesville Police Department's Traffic Safety Team, said local ordinances exist but mostly mirror state law. "We don't want to be so far off state law that someone coming in from out of town doesn't know what the rules are," Raulerson said. "The goal is not to say, â€òHa, ha, gotcha in Gainesville.' We have to be fair to outside truckers who aren't trying to thwart the law, but are just trying to legally make a delivery."
Sanderson said the best solution has proven to be putting up signs instructing drivers who aren't making a stop in town how to proceed around Gainesville properly, which state law allows municipalities to do.
Lt. Jeff Frost of the Motor Carrier Compliance Office said his department can enforce weight-limited roads for cities and counties at their request, but only if the signs are properly posted. City and county law enforcement officers usually don't have portable scales to weigh possible offenders like FDOT Motor Carrier Compliance officers do.
Michael Fay, assistant director of public works for Alachua County, said that's proven to be a nearly impossible task, too.
Fay said residents of County Road 337, located south of Newberry, rallied in the late 1990s to decrease traffic from through-trucks on their road, which was marked with a weight-limit sign. He said in order for the DOT to help enforce that weight limit, a sign would have had to be installed on the Levy County side of the road, too - something Levy County officials weren't interested in.
"We've had extensive issues trying to get assistance from the Motor Carrier Compliance Office, and unless you get assistance from them, it's difficult to enforce," Fay said. "Unfortunately, for most of our weight-restriction signs and no through-trucks signs, it's a matter of hoping that the truck driver sees the sign and obeys it."
The county has a set truck route that forms a triangle around Gainesville using Interstate 75, Williston and Waldo roads, and NW 39th Avenue. Signs on I-75 direct trucks coming from Tampa to Jacksonville, or from other locations requiring them to cut across Gainesville, to use those roads.
"Unfortunately, what we're finding is that even with the signs along the interstate, we still have what we feel is a large number of trucks traveling through our community that are not getting off on Williston Road but on State Road 24," Sanderson said.
Sanderson said the county's most recent effort to reduce truck traffic on roads that aren't made to handle it comes in the form of a change that would make SE 16th and SW 16th avenues part of State Road 24. That way, Sanderson said, trucks that accidentally get off at State Road 24 instead of Williston Road would be routed away from SW 13th Street and University Avenue.
"That would at least keep trucks away from the university, Shands and downtown, where we really don't want the truck traffic because it poses an increased danger to pedestrians and bikes," Sanderson said. "But that's a longer term piece of the puzzle that we're trying to work on."
Fay said in the meantime, there's not much homeowners like Mason can do to keep trucks from using their streets improperly.
"This is something we're struggled with periodically over the years, and there just aren't any easy answers," Fay said.
Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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