The Vermont Agency of Transportation is considering joining forces with counterparts in larger states to ask GPS data providers to deliver more specific road guidance to drivers of large vehicles to help them avoid notorious trouble spots.
Such a move would follow a frustrating series of stuck trucks that have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of Route 108 between Cambridge and Stowe, Vermont.
Tractor trailer drivers relying on GPS units instead of heeding the advice of road signs have been a major reason for trucks getting stuck on Route 108, Vermont State Police said. The road is just too winding and narrow for large vehicles, and when they cannot navigate a turn, the result can be a nasty logjam.
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"It's something we're hoping to bring to the national level to try to bring a resolution to that," Josh Schultz of VTrans said, describing his frustration with how many GPS devices do not warn truckers that the stretch of Route 108 is too narrow for big rigs and other large vehicles. "We'll hopefully remedy this, not only for ourselves but also other states that are seeing similar problems."
This past weekend, the Springfield Pics hockey team from Massachusetts got stuck on the so-called Notch Road when their bus could not navigate the narrow, craggy pass. It was closed for hours as crews worked to remove the stuck coach bus.
It was the eighth time this season that state emergency officials have had to close the notch entirely to remove large vehicles that couldn't make it through, according to data provided to necn from the Vermont State Police. Since 2009, 45 large vehicles have jammed the road.
The mountain pass is only open during Vermont's warmest five months and is a favorite destination for hikers, leaf-peepers, and Vermonters who use the notch as a way to cut time off their commutes in the summer.
"It takes a lot of resources; you have to get both sides shut down," said Lt. Garry Scott of the Vermont State Police, describing the arduous task of shutting the stretch of Route 108. "And it's expensive. It takes a lot of specialized equipment and heavy wreckers to get that done. A lot of people are inconvenienced, including tourists who then need to get new directions for a detour."
Tractor trailer drivers can now face hefty fines for landing themselves in a mess that shuts the road. Under new state law, civil penalties of $1,000-$2,000 may be levied on drivers who become stuck on the Notch Road.
Additional penalties can come after repeat offenses, Lt. Scott noted, adding that coach buses are exempt from the penalties.
Becky Cassel, who commutes through the notch to her job at Vermont's famous Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, called stuck trucks "travel nightmares."
She said she has several times in recent years had to take lengthy detours because the Notch Road was closed.
"It's infuriating," Cassel said. "It's a terrible inconvenience, and something has to be done to correct it."
The Vermont Agency of Transportation said in addition to its efforts aimed at convincing technology companies to provide more info on GPS units about hazards to large vehicles, it said it is working to improve existing signage.
Schultz explained that flashing messages on new road signs and enhancements to existing road signs are now in the works.
Schultz added that Vermont transportation officials are not considering widening the stretch of Route 108. After all, he said, the same natural features that pose hazards for trucks are what so many visitors and other drivers love about the notch, as-is.