A state proposal to reduce restrictions on large trucks in Gettysburg sparked a call for local and national activism during Monday’s borough council workshop meeting.
It is time to “marshal a campaign in the court of public opinion nationally,” council member Patricia Lawson said.
Reduced restrictions will come “over our dead bodies,” she said.
Lawson offered to facilitate formation of a local group to address truck-related issues. She can be reached at 717-578-3298 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several officials urged the public to contact state and federal legislators including state Rep. Dan Moul, R-91, and U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13. The borough will continue to lack a state senator until after next month’s special election.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) proposal centers on truck widths, but citizens and officials gave accounts of damage to historic buildings, stress on infrastructure including bridges, noise and emissions that affect residents and guests at bed-and-breakfasts, danger to pedestrians, and trucks routinely unable to make turns without vehicles in the opposite lane backing up.
“Walls have cracked” due to shaking from heavy trucks at the Shriver House Museum, a restored home dating to 1860 at 309 Baltimore St., owner Nancie Gudmestad said.
Windows have cracked at her neighboring home, while trucks sometimes make conversation “very difficult” and regularly interfere with sleep, she said.
For historic Gettysburg to be “so polluted by traffic noise is little short of a national disgrace,” said Brian Duncan, co-owner of the Brickhouse Inn Bed & Breakfast, 452 Baltimore St..
He estimated he has conversed with some 20,000 couples over 14 years, constituting an “unparalleled informal survey,” and “noise is the largest complaint.” Being woken by truck noise is “really terrible” for guests hoping to enjoy a “nice, peaceful” experience, Duncan said.
Issues in Gettysburg do receive national attention, Adams County Office of Planning and Development Asst. Director Andrew Merkel told the council.
“If we screw up here, it gets magnified by the name,” he said.
Residents and property owners should reach out to national battlefield preservation organizations or other relevant groups of which they are members, council President Susan Naugle said.
“We need allies,” borough council member Charles Strauss said.
PennDOT’s proposal is in “direct opposition” to the wishes of borough residents and business owners and goes against extensive local efforts to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian traffic, Lawson said.
Trucks “really fly by,” which is unsafe and “accentuates the noise,” said Wendy Allen, owner of the Lincoln Into Art gallery at 329 Baltimore St.
Borough resident Marcia Wilson said she has seen many “near misses” and fears she will one day “observe a dreadful accident” involving a truck and a pedestrian. She and others asked the council for advice about what they can do to improve the situation, prompting Lawson’s offer to help.
Tim Woodward, 102 Baltimore St., told of often seeing vehicles having to back up so trucks could make the turn from Baltimore to Middle Street, and described curbs and wheelchair ramps run over and damaged by trucks “all over town.”
Trucks also routinely end up on streets where they do not belong due to inaccurate GPS directions, Woodward said. Resident Susan Cipperly made the same point.
Vibration and fumes from trucks damage historic buildings, including their foundations, asserted Becky Woodward.
Truck noise is “continuous all through the night,” said Jeff Zimmerman of 217 Baltimore St., who called for measures to ban trucks from the downtown area.
There must be “some middle ground” between PennDOT’s desire to move freight traffic and the quality of life in Gettysburg, resident Mike Shestok said.
State wants changes
Sparking the discussion was a letter dated April 10 from PennDOT to the borough. It cites 2018 state legislation bringing Pennsylvania in line with the federal truck-width standard, which rose from 96 to 102 inches.
That change “prompts our reevaluation of roadways to determine if the network is safely and efficiently accommodating truck mobility,” says the letter from PennDOT District Traffic Engineer Jason Bewley.
Signs on several routes passing through the borough ban trucks with 102-inch trailers over 48 feet long, according to the letter. Such signage is inconsistent with federal standards and is “not effective and needs changed,” the letter reads.
“We observed negligible compliance with this truck restriction, and existing truck percentages and associated vehicle noise, are consistent with that expected for this highway network,” the letter reads. “We found a disproportionately low rate of heavy truck crashes compared to other vehicle types, despite heavy truck use. Our preliminary finding is that the truck restrictions should be lifted” and any resulting changes should be monitored.
But “immediately changing the signs to establish new, legal truck restrictions may significantly, negatively impact freight movement in Gettysburg. So, such change would warrant a comprehensive regional study,” the letter reads. “We understand this is a sensitive issue and some borough residents may have misgivings about lifting the restrictions,” which asks for “input” on the “preliminary findings” within 30 days.
A letter to PennDOT will be drafted for consideration during the council’s next meeting, Naugle said. It is set for May 13 at 7 p.m. at the borough hall, 59 E. High St.
The letter will be “strong in conveying our dismay,” she said.
“We’ll throw everything we have at them,” Naugle said.
Arguing against PennDOT is complicated by the fact that it does not recognize crashes unless someone is hurt or killed or a vehicle is damaged enough to require towing, Merkel said.
Arguments based on near-misses or effects of emissions and vibration are equally problematic because those things are difficult to quantify, he said.
“There might not be a lot of wiggle room on the engineering side of things,” which has led to a history of “consistent disagreement” between local officials and PennDOT, Merkel said.
Pavement damage can’t be a factor either because PennDOT owns the roads in question, Merkel said. The letter cites U.S. Route 30 (Chambersburg and York streets), Business Route 15 (Steinwehr Avenue, Baltimore Street, Old Harrisburg Road), and Pa. Routes 34 (Carlisle Street), 116 (Middle Street), and 134 (Taneytown Road).
Council member Jake Schindel asked whether the borough could “discourage” trucks from passing through by means of new traffic signals or roundabouts.
PennDOT won’t approve such things without sufficient statistical information, such as total turning movements, but such conditions do not appear to apply in Gettysburg, borough Engineer Chad Clabaugh said.
On the other hand, Clabaugh said, truck weight restrictions may be a possibility because of wear and tear on the borough’s bridges, which the state does not own, as well as storm sewer mains and the like.
Trucks have damaged at least four masts supporting traffic signals in the last five years, borough Public Works Director Robert Harbaugh said.
Research is needed to determine when and by what legal actions the existing truck-restriction signs were put in place, borough Police Chief Robert Glenny said. The restrictions may be “grandfathered in,” he said.
The dangerous mix of heavy trucks and large numbers of pedestrians “is probably our best angle,” Glenny said.
The physical dimensions of borough streets may also be an acceptable argument, Glenny said. He began as chief only a month ago but said he has already witnessed vehicles having to back up so a truck could turn.
The borough could also potentially revive its truck enforcement unit, he said. Scales and related equipment are expensive, but could quickly pay for themselves through fines, Glenny said.
Speed enforcement would be a better option if the state would end its ban on radar use by anyone but state police, Naugle said. Legislation to do so has been introduced many times, but has never gained passage.
“It’s so damn difficult to do anything” because of political realities, Mayor Ted Streeter said. He pointed to efforts stretching back decades to fund a bypass road to take trucks around the borough.
“There’s not going to be $500 million dropped in our lap to build a bypass,” Merkel agreed.
More than one speaker reported noise and smells throughout the day and night from trucks bearing the name of a waste paper company. Naugle said efforts will be made to contact that company.