Trouble at ground zero for economic recovery

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Updated Dec 14, 2009

This week, two new wrinkles quickly scaled over and cracked along the surface of what many have seen for some time now as the forefront of economic recovery and roadway safety — bridge infrastructure and the potential to both expand and maintain it as our roads age.

1. NEW YORK. That’s right, the state that’s given us so much — from high tolls to continual threats of local alternate route restriction and engine brake laws — just keeps on giving. Gov. David Paterson and county reps introduced legislation Thursday proposing to hike the penalties for trucks crashing into overpasses due to ignored or missed height restrictions, likewise proposing to bar GPS navigators from truck cabs if they don’t alert drivers to dimension restrictions. As can be expected, as reported in the Lower Hudson Valley Journal News, the state trucking association has called this an unfair anticompetitive ban, but the government views it as a safety necessity, since among 22 drivers surveyed by the state and who’d recently hit a bridge, 16 reported they were relying on consumer GPS navigation. A good round-up is on eTrucker here, in which New York Motor Truck Association Bill Joyce is quoted as saying, “The governor is doing a great job of pushing New York to the top of the list of places where truckers least want to do business.”

2. OVER IN NORTHWEST MISSOURI. Reports from the road have it that the Brownville Bridge on U.S. 136 over the Missouri River between Missouri and Nebraska, under reconstruction enabled by the stimulus bill and down to one lane, is sufficiently narrow (restricted at 102-inches) to be giving the Graybill Tire amp; Repair shop down the highway in nearby Rockport, Mo., a run for its cash as it tries to keep up with a flood of tire and wheel repairs. General Manager Terry Robinson disputes the notion that they can’t keep up, though, saying they’re well-stocked. All the same: “We’ve seen an increase in tires and rims, for sure,” he says.

One of Graybill’s new first-time customers was Charlie Spicer, an owner-operator leased to Alpine Transportation of Vancouver, Wash., who was running down 136 with another hauler who “clipped a trailer tire, and the guy in front me blew a couple,” he says, when they went over the bridge, down to one lane as MoDOT tries to proceed with redecking and generally refurbishing the bridge without totally shutting it down. Spicer himself lost a tire on his tractor and a tire and wheel on his company trailer, too. While laid over at the truckstop, the next morning he found six more haulers in for repairs who’d had similar problems. “They told me I got one of the last tires they had,” Spicer says of the folks at Graybill, whom he talked to again when he stopped in on his return trip through the area. On that next trip, they told him “they’d had to go to Kansas City to get more, and they were kinda laughing about it.

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“To me – and I realize it’s not their place [to question who’s at fault] — it’s really kind of ignorant on their part that they’re laughing about it. Something like that you can end up spending $1,500 for.” It cost Spicer around $900, all told, he says.

MoDOT says they’ve posted all the required signage, etc., and that any accidents are the fault of the haulers involved. “That’s a pretty tough bite for a trucker to swallow,” says Elaine Justus, adding that some carriers have been “sending in claims to us for tires and wheels, but we don’t feel we’re liable.” What the drivers are hitting, she says, are steel rivets in the bridge’s structure, perhaps because their trailer are slightly out of line.

“If you have a trailer that’s dogtracking a little, that’s where they’re coming up with their problems,” Graybill’s Robinson says. “We’ve got a lot of trucks that go through there that make it just fine. If it was just a matter of the bridge being too narrow, we’d be swamped.”

pSee the original MoDOT notice about the project, released in late August, here, and a recent eTrucker advisory here. Justus says the bridge will be width-restricted and down to one lane through next year’s construction season. If you have any doubt, bridges over the Missouri to the north through Nebraska City on state route 2 or to the south on U.S. 159 are available. /p

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