Controversy Brewing Over PennDOT’s Interstate 80 Commercial Vehicle Bans

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Pa. (EYT) – There is nothing like an ice storm to put fear in the hearts of even the best drivers. Bad roads keep people sidelined, but some local businesses are getting hit where it hurts.

(Photo during a February 20 Commercial Vehicle Ban implemented by PennDOT.)

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) recently began issuing Commercial Motorized Vehicle (CMV) bans on interstate highways, including Interstate 80, which is a main access point for most local companies that receive and deliver freight. These restrictions impose fines for any commercial vehicles and non-commercial vehicles hauling trailers and recreational vehicles that attempt to travel the interstate.

According to PennDOT, a commercial vehicle ban has been in effect three times in 2019.

PennDOT Spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said safety is the state’s number one priority.

“Delays can be worse when highways are not closed to CMVs,” said Waters-Trasatt. “Accidents cause pile-ups as specialized equipment is called in to remove trucks. Sometimes HAZMAT clean-up is necessary, and local emergency resources are tied up as fire and rescue personnel are needed to provide support at accident scenes.”

While everyone can agree that safety is important, the most recent ban on February 20 left some local business operators questioning the state’s decision.

Long Acres Farms owner Bryan Beck said his company, based in Tionesta, was directly affected by the ban.

“This causes economic hardship to our business,” said Beck. “The I-80 restrictions force us to take secondary roads to deliver our products to market. This is even more unsafe.”

The farm’s grain and warehouse manager, Brian Cangello, explained the impact in detail.

“We have to pick up fertilizer in East Liverpool, Ohio. We have until the end of the month, and then we’ll get fined,” said Cangello.

Cangello went on to explain that two of the company’s trucks were supposed to be leaving to make deliveries when a CMV ban was put in place last week, but everything had to be put on hold.

Matt Bauer, of Bauer Truck Repair, has witnessed first-hand the effects of commercial vehicle bans on the trucking industry.

“Drivers have to stay in hotels while waiting for their trucks to be repaired because they cannot go anywhere else,” said Bauer.

Bauer Truck Repair also offers a towing service, but during CMV bans, disabled trucks have to wait at truck stops until the tow truck is permitted to travel on the highway.

“Everything gets put on hold,” said Bauer.

Waters-Trasatt says the initiation of a state-wide CMV ban is a joint decision made by PennDOT, the Turnpike Commission, the PA State Police, and the state Emergency Management Agency.

According to James Basinger, director of the PA State Police Bureau of Patrol, the bans play a significant role in keeping the roads clear and making sure motorists stay safe.

“Commercial vehicle crashes are a challenge to investigate and clear in any weather,” said Basinger. “During a winter storm, (CMVs) can cause significant road closures, which lead to stranded drivers and increased danger for first responders.”

Keeping CMVs off the roads during bad weather prevents crashes and keeps roads clear, according to Basinger.

During a storm on November 15 and 16, 2018, there were 97 reported CMV crashes with 14 reported injuries. There was no ban on CMVs during the two days. A ban was put in place during another storm on January 19 and 20. During this two-day period, 12 crashes were reported and only two injuries. A storm earlier in February saw 47 accidents with six injuries. The ban was in place for this storm.

“This is a large reduction in crashes during winter events,” said Adam Marshall, assistant traffic engineer at the local field office of PennDOT in Indiana. “We have to balance the needs of commerce with safety.”

While most local politicians are staying quiet on the issue, Representative Cris Dush (R-66th District) feels there are better solutions.

“A state-wide ban is not the way to go,” said Rep. Dush. “Side roads are equally problematic.”

He suggests speed restrictions and giving local 9-1-1 coordinators the ability to close localized portions of the highway.

Representatives Donna Oberlander (R-63rd District) declined to comment.

Calls to R. Lee James (R-65th District) were not returned.

Although many local business representatives have aired their frustrations, others have downplayed the bans.

Ron Gustafson, of Gustafson General Contracting in Oil City, said he had some delay in getting materials but it was only for one day.

“It was pretty insignificant in the end,” said Gustafson. “A couple of days would have been a problem for me as I had employees on the job using rented equipment and deadline for my customer.”

Despite Barber Trucking, which has a truck terminal in Brookville, having twelve trucks, or 27% of its fleet, sidelined during the February 20 ban, Chief Financial Officer Tia Young thanked PennDOT.

“We appreciate knowing when roads are bad,” said Young. “I’m grateful that PennDOT provides regular updates on road conditions.”

Young explained that Barber’s trucks have the ability to be heated, even when not running, and they are equipped with beds, microwaves, and amenities that make bunking inside the truck a safe option.

Waters-Trasatt said that state officials put an emphasis on keeping motorists informed.

“We do everything we can to give as much advance notice as possible to all travelers and affected industries ahead of restrictions, and we evaluate conditions throughout storms to see when we can safely and effectively remove the restrictions,” said Waters-Trasatt.

Waters-Trasatt also said a group has been formed for those concerned about highway mobility issues. Businesses that are interested in participating can email the PA Business Emergency Operations Center at [email protected]

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