Transportation officials in Vermont long vexed by oversized trucks getting stuck in a craggy mountain pass say they are refocusing their energies on finding a solution to the problem.
“If the solution was an easy solution, we probably would’ve done it 10 years ago, or longer,” said Josh Schultz of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
At issue is Vermont’s iconic Notch Road on Route 108, a scenic pass that is only open spring through fall. It is popular with hikers and travelers in normal-sized cars, and is a key link for locals between the resort towns of Stowe and Cambridge.
However, jumbo buses and trucks don’t belong.
The notch is too narrow and winding for them, and they can’t make it past the boulders. Commercial drivers, usually from outside of the region, can end up blocking traffic for an hour or two, or even longer.
A stuck truck hauling cargo too long to navigate the twisting road ended up blocking traffic for roughly an hour Wednesday, Vermont State Police said. A professional towing company needed to assist in its removal, police added.
Wednesday’s truck was the third to get stuck this year, Schultz told NECN.
“When is it going to sort of get through that it’s really an issue?” Tamara Richards, who owns a home near the Notch Road, asked rhetorically in response to news of the latest stuck vehicle.
Mark Martell feels the pinch at his family-owned restaurant, Martell’s at the Red Fox, in Jeffersonville.
“It definitely takes a toll,” he said of the impact that blockages in the Notch have on the operations of the restaurant.
Oversized vehicles tend to get stuck seven to 12 times per season, according to the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Whenever that happens, Martell said some of his customers can’t make it to their meals, if they’re coming from the Stowe side of the notch.
“I know the last time it happened, a five-top called and said, ‘We can’t make it,’” Martell said. “And that’s anywhere from $150-$200 that we as a business lose out on, [and] our wait staff lose out on tips.”
The biggest cause of the messes seems to be commercial drivers following GPS guidance, transportation and public safety officials have said in the past.
Signs do tell drivers of tractor-trailer units to not put all their faith in those systems.
Warnings are also written on the surface of Route 108 itself, and big message boards throughout the area are designed to give an early heads-up. Those signs were recently added to points on Interstate 89, Route 100 and Route 15 to increase the chances of reaching drivers of long vehicles who may be heading for Route 108, Schultz noted.
Schultz emphasized the Vermont Agency of Transportation is working with a long list of partners on potential solutions to the problem.
“Really trying to take a revitalized approach to what can we do to make this issue better, and hopefully solve it completely,” Schultz said in an interview with NECN Thursday.
Schultz said possible fixes include improving messaging on signs, adding a gatekeeper, convincing GPS providers to give users critical extra information and investing in infrastructure changes near the approaches to the notch — like easier turnarounds or even a high-tech system to measure passing vehicles with a camera that’ll signal if they’re at risk of getting stuck.
Additional planning sessions are coming up, Schultz said, and may even involve communications with the Vermont Legislature, he added.
If roadside messaging fails, there’s always the reminder about money as a powerful way to reach people.
The driver in Wednesday’s case, who was from South Carolina, received a $1,197 ticket, according to Vermont State Police.
Total fines could run twice that cost, according to a message board on Interstate 89 North, which is positioned before the exit for Stowe.
Schultz said the list of organizations collaborating with VTrans on solutions to the problem of stuck vehicles includes the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the towns of Stowe and Cambridge, Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Stowe Mountain Resort, Stowe Police, Vermont State Police and other voices from the area business community.