Commissioner Bob Palmer, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, told the panel Thursday he has been receiving complaints about large tractor-trailers using Melinda Ferry Road, which is narrow with sharp curves in some places.
Palmer said he contacted TDOT, which indicated that because Melinda Ferry Road is a state route (344) tractor-trailers can’t be banned from that road unless there is a study conducted to document how many semis use that road and how often.
EMA Director Gary Murrell noted that Melinda Ferry isn’t the only narrow, winding state route with tractor-trailer problems.
GPS directions tend to send drivers along the route with the shortest distance, but don’t take into account topography or other factors that would make the road incompatible for tractor-trailer traffic.
Local drivers know better than to follow those directions, but non-locals have no way of knowing that GPS is sending them down a dangerous path.
For example, Murrell said, GPS sends traffic coming from Morristown to Phipps Bend or Church Hill’s AGC plant along Route 113, to Melinda Ferry Road, to Highway 11-W, which isn’t the easiest route.
GPS also sends tractor-trailers going from I-81 to Phipps Bend or AGC from Exit 36 in Baileyton to Van Hill, to Beech Creek, to Early Branch, to Grassy Creek, to Goshen Valley, to 11-W.
On numerous occasions, those tractor-trailers have damaged bridges on Grassy Creek and Early Branch, Murrell noted.
Murrell said that recently a trucker was given directions to Barrette Industries on Route 66-S in Bulls Gap from I-81 Exit 23 to Highway 11-E, to VFW Road, to Whitehorn Road.
“He dug into the railroad track and hung himself up,” Murrell said. “We had railroad traffic stopped for over half an hour trying to get him off the railroad. There’s a sign. ‘No Trucks.’ I don’t know what the answer is to that.”
Murrell added, “When we start having incidents on a county road that we know tractor-trailers shouldn’t be on, we go to the highway department and they put up signs. That’s all you can do. The GPS is sending them from the interstate, and they come across road where they don’t belong.”
Another troublesome road is Route 66-N, which has a warning sign at the bottom in Rogersville where it intersects with 11-W. Murrell said GPS is directing semis en route to Sneedville to Choptack Road, and then onto 66-N, which leaves two steep, winding passes over Clinch Mountain for the truck to cross.
“Eleven years ago, we wrote a letter to the state asking them about putting signs — ‘No Trucks’ (on 66-N),” Murrell told the committee. “You cannot stop a truck from being on a state road. If you stop a truck from being on a state road, you lose federal funds. Hawkins County can’t take care of state roads if the state loses federal funds, but we’re averaging a (stuck) truck per week on Route 66-N. It ties up two county officers, and fire departments are there until they get a wrecker.”
Murrell added, “Once a tractor-trailer has passed Choptack Road, that’s the point of no return, and the county has asked for a ‘No Trucks’ sign there. But the state says it’s not justified.”
Palmer is asking that residents who see tractor-trailers on narrow, winding state or county roads to call 911. Dispatchers will fill out complaint cards, documenting the event.
At the same time, there will be documentation every time a rescuer or police officer is dispatched to a semi getting stuck or doing damage on back roads.
Murrell said that information will be compiled into a study to present to TDOT in hopes of getting some tractor-trailer restrictions imposed.