09/16/07 — Big trucks could be banned from new U.S. 117 bypass

View Archive

Big trucks could be banned from new U.S. 117 bypass

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 16, 2007 2:08 AM

The U.S. 117 bypass from Goldsboro to Wilson was supposed to be an economic boon for Wayne County. It was supposed to be a faster route for commuters headed to Raleigh, as well as for trucks headed north on I-95.

But now, with the state Highway Patrol beginning to enforce a little-known statue regulating where trucks with trailers more than 48 feet long can travel, the bypass, as well as most other routes in Wayne County are off-limits.

In fact, the only approved route in the entire county is U.S. 70.

It is, said Wayne Aycock, owner of Wilco Transportation and former chairman of the county Planning Board, more than a simple inconvenience.

"It's an economic issue for Wayne County as much as anything," he said. "Fifty-three-foot trucks are the industry standard now."

It's a problem that's already being noticed by local companies, especially in the southern end of the county.

Mike Rackley, distribution supervisor for Mt. Olive Pickle Co., explained that of the trucks carrying the company's products, more than 70 percent are independent truckers or customers, most of whom use 53-foot trucks.

"It hasn't really been a problem yet, but this has potential to be a major blow," he said. "No one told us this was going be to an issue. There's nothing on that road that says you can't use 53-foot trailers. U.S. 117 is every bit as good as U.S. 70."

But the problem, explained Kevin Lacey, a state traffic engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation, is that under the federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which was passed in 1982, trucks longer than 48 feet are only allowed to travel on interstate highways and other state-approved routes.

The reason for the restriction is because of concerns of off-tracking -- a condition in which the rear wheels of a larger trailer do not follow in the tracks of the front wheels when turning.

"It's a safety issue," said 1st Sgt. Tracy Greene with the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

He admitted, though, that in the past, this particular regulation was not strictly enforced.

But, he explained, when the state Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies received updated National Truck Network maps from NCDOT this spring, they began to pay much more attention to which routes the trucks were running as part of an overall effort to make North Carolina's roads safer.

In Wayne County, that has meant that not only are troopers giving out tickets on the U.S. 117 bypass, but also the rest of U.S. 117, as well as U.S. 13, N.C. 111, N.C. 222, N.C. 581 and N.C. 55 -- all of which, Aycock said, have long been major shipping routes.

But, Greene countered, just because a route was used in the past, doesn't mean it's going to free from future enforcement.

"They've been driving these 53-foot trailers where they're not supposed to," Greene said. "Before, we didn't have the tools in hand and there was a lack of enforcement.

"Until now, truck drivers have been able to go pretty much anywhere and now that we're reining that in, they're screaming."

The catch for the new U.S. 117 bypass, though, is that while it was built to interstate standards and was slated for interstate designation, problems with the U.S. 264 connection to I-95 delayed that process earlier this year -- a fact that makes no difference to the highway patrol.

"It's unfortunate, but until (U.S. 117) is an approved route, we've got to enforce it like the smaller roads," Greene said.

Luckily, Lacey said, it appears as though the application is on track to be approved sometime before the end of the year.

"We haven't heard any further objections," he said. "We feel pretty confident about it."

As for the county's other major trucking routes, though, the only option is for somebody to undergo the arduous process of requesting DOT to change their designations.

Earlier this week, the county planning board voted unanimously to ask the commissioners to submit a resolution to DOT asking for the rest of U.S. 117, from U.S. 70 to U.S. 40, be designated an STAA route, as well as N.C. 55 from Newton Grove to Kinston. The other routes, Aycock said, will have to wait.

"U.S. 117 and N.C. 55 would put Wayne County in pretty good shape," he said. "But our priority right now, is 117."