Straying from the Interstate

Straying from the Interstate

A New York State Dept. of Transportation draft regulation would require all trucks greater than 45 ft. in length to use the Interstate highway system first, prioritizing the state’s roads to limit, or even eliminate, the use of community streets

When residents in the small, picturesque upstate New York community of Skaneateles want to jog, bike or walk down their streets, they don’t want tractor-trailers rumbling past. That might not happen anymore if a New York State Dept. of Transportation draft regulation currently open for public comment goes into effect.

The regulation would require all trucks greater than 45 ft. in length to use the Interstate highway system first, prioritizing the state’s roads to limit, or even eliminate, the use of community streets. “We try to [promote Skaneateles] as a very pedestrian-friendly district,” Mayor Robert Green told Fleet Owner, adding that Skaneateles Lake is the prime, unfiltered water source for 250,000 people. “We’re not trying to hurt the individual truckers.”

Green, a member of the Upstate New York Safety Task Force Coalition that has been looking into the issue, understands the current economic issues facing the industry. Buthe argues that several studies have indicated that every day anywhere from 100 to 200 refuse-hauling trucks alone travel through the community of just over 2,600 at the head of the Finger Lakes. The trucks, many from New York City in addition to haulers from Pennsylvania and Connecticut, use the region to shortcut to the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Waterloo.

When researching the legislation, though, the state determined it could not ban trucks hauling just one type of cargo in one region, and ended up expanding the regulation to include the entire state. “I don’t care what community you talk to, they’re all being impacted by trucks cutting through their communities,” Green said.

Kendra Adams, acting president of the New York State Motor Truck Assn. (NYSMTA), thinks communities like Skaneateles might not see the drop-off in truck traffic they think they will under the proposal.

Adams said New York Governor David Paterson (D) had initially proposed the plan as a pilot program in the Finger Lakes region, but it was quickly expanded to include the entire state. “We don’t think this is the right way to go,” she said. “If there are areas of concerns, we’d be [happy] to address those, but to do a [comprehensive] ban we think is wrong.”

The regulation would not ban trucks if there were a specific business reason for using the road. It reads, in part: “A truck shall use the State access highways, as such highways are designated by the Commissioner of Transportation, to reach terminals, facilities and sites for the delivery or pickup of merchandise or other property only if the truck may lawfully use such highway in accordance with the length, width and weight restrictions of the Vehicle and Traffic Law and: (1) such access is the exclusive highway providing access to the specific terminal, facility or site for the pickup or delivery of merchandise or other property; or (2) use of such access highway is reasonably necessary to access the specific terminal, facility or sites for the pickup or delivery of merchandise or other property or to return to the network of qualifying highways.”

Adams, though, is still unsure how the state would enforce such a ban and who would determine when trucks would be allowed to leave the main highway system. “We’re still trying to get clarification on that,” she said.

“This draft regulation breaks new ground by recognizing that highways serve multiple purposes and must accommodate the historical, natural and unique characteristics of our communities, not just traffic,” New York DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn said.

Of primary concern to the state trucking association is the rise in fuel costs, loss of productivity and increased miles for drivers forced to travel further to reach their destinations.

“In a time when the industry is struggling with record high fuel costs, plus a rise in tolls on the New York Thruway … it just doesn’t make sense,” Adams said. The NYSMTA has not formally responded to the proposal, but Adams said a response that will address areas of concern to the industry is in the works.

“The draft regulations … are another win in the string of good news that communities across upstate have gotten from the governor’s office when it comes to getting these noxious trucks off their local roads, and back on the interstates where they belong,” said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY). “The details released … show that Gov. Paterson and the state are serious about working with upstate businesses, residents and local officials, as well as the trucking industry and other parties, to kick these sorely needed regulations out the door and deliver peace of mind, safe roads and clean air to communities across Central New York and the Finger Lakes.”

The regulation, which is open for public comment, could take six months or more to work through the legislative process. To voice an opinion, visit the NYDOT Web site.

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