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Trucks a concern on U.S. 58
Tractor-trailers over certain length must have permit
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A sign posted along U.S. 58 warns that tractor-trailers more than 65 feet long must have a permit in Carroll and Patrick Counties. (Bulletin photo by Debbie Hall)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The 7.8-mile section of U.S. 58 between Stuart and Vesta is restricted to vehicles of a certain width and length, but that often does not stop longer and heavier tractor-trailers from using the road.

“We do have a problem with” that, Virginia State Police Sgt. J.M. Phillippi said of what is known as the Lovers Leap section. The road “is not designed for” over-length vehicles, he said. “It’s too curvy.”

Generally, vehicles longer than 65 feet are restricted, according to the law, which states the actual length of any combination of vehicles coupled together is not to be more than 65 feet long.

Longer vehicles “track into the other lane” and into the path of oncoming traffic when rounding a curve, said Lisa Hughes, resident engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

That poses a danger not only to the trucks, but also to oncoming vehicles, she said. The road “can accommodate a typical tractor trailer,” but the curves “don’t lend themselves to over-length trucks,” she added.

Both she and Phillippi said restrictions are posted in locations that are visible to both westbound and eastbound traffic. The signs state that “no combination of vehicles can be more than 65 feet” long, the trooper said.

Trailers generally are a standard 53 feet in length, he said.

“More than likely” if the tractor has a sleeper and there is little or no space between the back of the cab and the trailer, the vehicle will be over 65 feet in length, Phillippi said.

Drivers of the longer trucks travel restricted roads for various reasons, officials said.

For instance, their mapping systems may not include the fact that the road is restricted, so the driver may not know, Phillippi said.

Others may know the road is restricted and drive it anyway because it may be the shortest route, officials indicated.

Del. Charles Poindexter prioritized the Lovers Leap section of U.S. 58 in a bill passed earlier this year for road improvements, mainly because of safety concerns expressed by “primarily ... everyone we talked to about” it, according to Alex Thorup, legislative assistant to Poindexter, R-Glade Hill.

“We heard from the education community concerns that it was not safe for school buses, we heard from the business community that it was not safe for trucks, and we heard from residents that, in addition to the safety concerns relating to larger vehicles such as buses or trucks, it was just a dangerous section of road in general, and we wanted to ensure that this part was widened as soon as possible,” Thorup said.

Patrick County Schools Superintendent Roger Morris said there have been no accidents involving buses on the Lovers Leap since 2007, when he took over the helm of the school division. “But obviously, we stay concerned about trucks that may lose control, or any other vehicles for that matter,” he added.

The school division is required to install special equipment such as an engine brake on buses that travel the road, Morris said. “Not all of our buses can go up the mountain.”

The division also takes other precautions, such as providing extra training for drivers whose route includes Lovers Leap, Morris said. “Our drivers are very cognizant” and trained to keep an eye out for potential safety hazards, he added.

However, almost daily the stench of overheated brakes from trucks heading east, or crawling traffic for westbound travelers, is common.

That continued use of the two-lane road by vehicles that exceed the restricted limits “is a concern,” according to Hughes. “It usually comes to our attention when one is” involved in an accident, she said.

Specific crash data related to vehicles on that stretch of road in not available, according to Sunni Brown, public relations and media liaison for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

She said the road can be legally traveled by over-length/width vehicles that have a special permit — called a hauling permit — from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The permits include safety requirements for the vehicles, such as displaying a red or fluorescent flag, an amber flashing light and a “wide load” or “oversize load” sign. The permits also may set days and times of travel, speed limit and other requirements, Brown said, adding that requirements may vary according to permit.

Although the road is slated for improvements, Phillippi suggested calling 911 when a vehicle longer than 65 feet is seen traveling that — or any another stretch — of restricted road.

Violators can be charged with a traffic infraction and fined $250, according to Virginia law.


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