Truck summit. All the right people in one room.

This past Friday we held a long overdue local freight summit of sorts to address ongoing Truck issues. This is the biggest problem we face as a community. Both a safety and quality of life issue. The problems have gotten worse over the last year. Not better.

The attendees were:
Myself. LMT Manager, Planner, Code Enforcement Officer and Engineer. State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie. Jon Nederostak from the State Police, The Alburtis Borough Manager and Police Chief, Various PennDOT officials, The LVPC and a representative of the major leasers of warehouse space in the township. (Liberty Properties)

I thought first I would update on a number of specific issues raised. Going from the immediate goals to longer term goals. First the short term. Signs & Enforcement. 

  •  Signs
    • Willow Ln. – Will be signed in the coming weeks. It is already restricted to trucks but signs will act as an additional deterrent. After installation it will be added to PSP enforcement rotations.
    • Mertztown Rd. – A formal request has been made to PennDOT from the township to add restriction signage. Though the PennDOT representatives present were non-committal, I’d be shocked if the request isn’t granted. The road is already restricted (since it isn’t on state truck routes map) but the absence of signs has meant trucks are using the road on a daily basis.
    • Spring Creek Rd. – A long awaited sign package requested by the Township and Borough a few months ago for Spring Creek Rd. has been approved. Signs are ordered and should be up in a few days. This includes directional signage to be placed before the turn onto Mertztown Rd. indicating “Congdon Hill Rd. straight ahead”. This is to keep trucks from mistakingly turning onto Mertztown Rd.  We will also get signage for Spring Creek Rd. indicating that trucks cannot proceed further past Congdon Hill. and into the Borough of Alburtis. There are no signs presently indicating this. The Borough reps were very pleased they are coming. Again, long overdue.
  • Enforcement.
    • Alburtis Borough gave out 51 tickets last month. This number has been increasing. I asked directly if that’s because there are more violations. The answer was yes. This is the best indicator that until now the problem has gotten worse not better.
    • The State Police DO ticket trucks in Lower Macungie Twp. They will begin giving the township regular reports on the numbers and types of tickets given.

      State police tickets a truck on Willow Ln. on Friday AM.

    • Further the State Police will be conducting a targeted truck enforcement blitz next month. This is designed to maximize enforcement visibility.
  • Longer term goals. 
    • The state currently does not allow the signage of local truck routes beyond those identified on existing truck route maps. For example, we are currently unable to put up local signage directing trucks to I-78 or the bypass from Spring Creek Rd. or other clusters of warehouses. Similar requests have been made over the last few months by Upper Macungie Twp. This is an item I was glad that State Rep. Mackenzie was present to hear first hand. In fact he brought up a good question (one that’s the been asked before) of whether proactive signs were being used. Meaning signs indicating ‘go this way’, as opposed to ‘don’t go this way’. I’m happy he was present to hear the answer we get from PennDOT and the corresponding frustration with that answer. I’m hoping this gets solved and I think Mackenzie can help.
    • The issue repeatedly is 3rd party carriers. Those facilities with fleet drivers normally are able to keep their deliveries on the appropriate routes. The issue is that some drivers are coming to the area for the first and probably last time. In other words it’s not a fixed route for them. These are (confirmed by Alburtis PD and PSP) the drivers unfamiliar with the area who are creating a lot of the issues. They tend to over-rely on GPS which is the catalyst of much of the havoc. PennDOT officials at the meeting unfortunately expressed skepticism that the GPS issues will be solved “anytime soon”. . . Very problematic. I will also say I’m disappointed that during some approval hearings we were led to believe that carriers would be majority fleet for some operations. That hasn’t been the case.
      • Related to above we’re working with the facilities to beef up signage in truck lounges and elsewhere on the property. This is needed, but not a magic bullet. The issue is, that so much of the delivery and pickup process is automated – some drivers come and go from the property without going inside.
    • Global issues. Hopefully avoiding being redundant I mentioned more than once at the meeting that the basket of strategies outlined above are important and will help us turn the tide so to speak. But, that I believe the problems will persist. We know this because Upper Macungie is ahead of us in terms of an aggressive signage program, enforcement and working with facilities. Yet they still face the same issues. Upper Mac is a crystal ball in a lot of ways. I only say this to drive home the point that the solution to these problems is something neither Lower Mac, Upper Mac or any other Valley community has tried before. It was said multiple times that these problems are completely unique to our region. Therefore there exists no blueprint on how to address them. And in a lot of ways, the state doesn’t enable us to think outside the box since no other area faces the same concentration of these types of warehouses as we do in the Lehigh Valley.This is why it’s essential to have the support of Pat Browne and Ryan Mackenzie. Which I believe we do. But that has to translate into action. It was very important to have Ryan present to hear the stakeholders talk through the frustrations. I believe strongly, that some of the long term answers are legislative. 
    • A few ideas that have been brought up. 
      •  I am personally convinced the answer lies in holding the facilities and operators accountable. Signs and enforcement while a necessary proactive step, is similar to a dog chasing tail approach. It’s a never-ending (and expensive) commitment that never totally solves the problem. So the thought is, since every driver communicates with the facility or business they are delivering to, therein lies the opportunity to apply pressure to the businesses to make sure they communicate to drivers appropriate routes. Problem is we (the township) have no hammer to be able to require this. We need the ability to create ordinances that hold businesses accountable. Fines should not be levied on the individual drivers (This is unfair, and because of the #’s of independent drivers ineffective) but rather the companies. Common sense dictates end of the day they are in the best position to proactively address issues before they become problems.
      • Camera or otherwise automated enforcement. The fundamental problem with signs is that to be totally effective there are areas of the township where we need constant enforcement. This is because of the 24/7 nature of the operators. So this becomes a resources problem. Time + money. Automated enforcement would help.
      • Impact fees. Related to all these potential solutions is an additional cost burden on the township. Some of the new facilities that do not employ many people generate very little local revenue we can use to mitigate problems. This is a big reason why we need the ability to assess an impact fee. This would be something that would have to be enabled by Harrisburg. Perhaps in the form of a Dock fee? Bottom line is that often these facilities create major liabilities but generate little new revenue for the host municipality. A warehouse with few employees means the township collects little LST revenue. Since our municipal property tax is so low that revenue stream is very small. (and only way to address that is to raise taxes on everyone which we won’t do) So, this leaves us high and dry in terms of implementing strategies to address issues.
      • Physical restrictions – This is a tough one, but again – all options need to be on the table. Chicanes and or other artificial barriers to physically stop trucks from going where they should not be.