Gridlock

Max Kvidera and Todd Dills | November 01, 2010



Jim Wood, president and CEO of Battle Creek, Mich.-based 26-power-unit fleet Maverick Express




Mike Erskine, senior vice president of the van division for diversified 2,400-power-unit fleet Western Express, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.



Battling the Big Road With Western Express Driver Derek Dorsey

Todd Dills


I set out Sept. 21 for a round-trip from Nashville to Atlanta with Western Express driver Derek Dorsey. We left Nashville just prior to noon.

After 9 p.m., this backup at a work zone on I-20 at the I-285 interchange west of Atlanta was just a minor hiccup compared to the nightmare it must have been at rush hour.

An hour and a half later, after a brief stop at a Murfreesboro Pilot to refill the diesel-exhaust-fluid tank in the 2011 Freightliner Cascadia, we started the climb up Monteagle Mountain on I-24. Unsuspecting heavy-haul drivers worked their way to the slow lane, some even to the right apron. Dorsey was well-prepared and moved into the right lane early, knowing it was prudent.

Battling congestion, after all, is not only a productivity issue. His 43,000-lb. load of waste paper from a magazine printer bound first for a Western drop yard in Conley, Ga., then to the WM Recycle America facility in Augusta, Ga., would necessitate a slow run up the mountain. The safe choice, Dorsey said, was to drop his 10-speed transmission to eighth gear and take it easy, even as he gained speed on less significant grades along the climb. The gearing choice allowed him the power flexibility to be able to pass, twice, when he needed to, and avoid creating major congestion problems for drivers behind him.

“When you’re going up this hill, there are trucks that can climb the hill, but other trucks will bog down,” he said. “It causes congestion as lighter trucks and cars try to get around them in two lanes of traffic.”

Western Express recruiting director Matt Neal calls Derek Dorsey (pictured) “one of our absolute best.” For video from Todd Dills’ run with Dorsey visit http://truckers­news.com.

Dealing with congestion is all about watching your own movements and those of vehicles around you. Patience is often a useful virtue, evident in Dorsey’s motto — “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” Also a driver-trainer for recruits at Western Express, Dorsey routinely passes the motto along to his students. “Stress leads to carelessness, which leads to accidents, and sometimes that can lead to a fatality,” he told me. “I treat everybody on this road, regardless of race, creed or color, just like that’s my family member and I want to see them at Christmas … like I love them with all my heart. It takes a lot of care to be out here.”

After a brief slowdown at the I-24/U.S. 27 connection in Chattanooga, Tenn., we experienced no significant issues before Atlanta. The Western Express drop yard, shared with several other carriers, is at the south end of the city. To give me an opportunity to see the city’s congestion problems, Dorsey chose the eastern portion of the I-285 loop as his primary route.

Approaching the I-285 junction on I-75 before 5 p.m., northbound traffic out of town was crawling. As we merged onto the loop road, we were crawling ourselves. “On the bypass,” Dorsey said, “typically in any major metropolitan area, the two right lanes are for trucks.” That was the case here, and Dorsey, as he does elsewhere in traffic, chose the left of those two. “The rule of thumb is you always want to have a way out.”

Choosing this lane, as four-wheelers darted into and out of the two-tractor-trailer-length space he tried to leave between his front bumper and the vehicle ahead of him, “I can go left or right to avoid a hazardous situation,” he said, “particularly with 43,000 in the box, which slows me down on maneuvering the truck even faster. I let them have their way, let them have the road.”

+$3.50/ mileThis is the added per-truck, per-mile congestion cost for carriers, according to a 2008 American Transportation Research Institute Analysis, of traversing the “Spaghetti Junction” stretch of I-285 where it meets I-85 east of Atlanta at 5 p.m. — when average speeds typically dip below 20 mph. The bottleneck ranked No. 5 on the congestion index developed by the ATRI last year.

We were well ahead of the scheduled 9 p.m. pickup time he had at Custom Building Products just west of Atlanta in Lithia Springs off I-20. After dropping the paper load for another Western driver at the yard in Conley, we made it by 7:30.

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