Mayor Walter Goode, commissioners Donna McDermott and Larry Anderson, and Police Chief John “Hank” Haden have been discussing traffic risks and damage to the roadway through the middle of the city with the passage of 50 to 60 logging trucks each day.
Watson, TDOT and the state’s regional traffic engineer say they have not been contacted about these concerns. Inquiries were made of state officials after last week’s Charleston City Commission meeting.
Watson said banning logging trucks on Highway 11 would effectively shut down the Resolute Forest Service (formerly AbitibiBowater) paper mill, located just across the Hiwassee River from Charleston.
Charleston officials are not advocating the elimination of truck traffic on Highway 11, just lessening traffic and its impact through the city limits. They want logging trucks to take Interstate 75 north of the Charleston exit at Lauderdale Memorial Highway and take the Calhoun exit east to Highway 11, where the Resolute mill is located.
Haden says the drive from the Lauderdale-I-75 interchange to the Calhoun exit and over to Bowater is one mile closer than driving east on Lauderdale Highway to Highway 11 at the Tarver Distributing Co. plant and north through the city to Bowater.
Jennifer A. Flynn, regional community relations officer for TDOT in Chattanooga responded to an inquiry from Watson last week, after he had been contacted by the Banner.
“TDOT plans, builds and maintains an integrated transportation system for the movement of people and products,” said Flynn. “By virtue of our state highways being public highways, they are open to use by all types of legal vehicles, including commercial truck traffic.
“The only locations where TDOT limits truck traffic are those locations where our bridge inspection teams have determined that a particular bridge needs to have a weight restriction posted,” added TDOT’s spokesperson. “Even then, we cannot enforce the posting because we are not an enforcement agency.”
“There have been a few instances where we allow local governments to limit through truck traffic,” she continued. “This is only done where there is a viable alternate route that can be utilized by trucks. This alternate route must be approved by the state traffic engineer, and local government is responsible for designating and signing this ‘truck route.’
“Even in this case, through trucks are the only trucks that are required to use the designated truck routes,” she continued. “Local trucks are still allowed to use the route to access businesses or to make deliveries. And, as with bridges that have weight restrictions posted, TDOT cannot enforce these designated truck routes because we are not an enforcement agency.”
Flynn said prohibiting commercial truck traffic on state highways would severely hinder a large percentage of businesses in Tennessee, including most industrial, manufacturing and agricultural-related businesses, as well as a huge percentage of retail-related businesses.
She said the process of limiting or controlling what types of businesses can locate within a city or community is strictly a local zoning issue, and TDOT has no authority or involvement in local zoning ordinances.
“Commercial trucking activity is an integral part of the nation’s economic infrastructure,” Flynn continued.” Congress and the judiciary, considering the important role of a fluid transportation system to our economy, have limited the restrictions that a state may place on the trucking industry.
“The state’s roadway system is publicly funded, and any restrictions on highway use must be balanced in the interest of all highway users. To place restrictions on trucks, the restrictions must be reasonable, and there must be clear and convincing evidence that the proposed restrictions are merited and justify the burden they may place on interstate commerce,” added the TDOT official.
She went on to say, “While banning commercial trucks may well answer the valid concerns of local citizens, it is at odds with the general legal proposition that seeks to allow commercial vehicles reasonable and equal access to the state’s publicly owned highway system. This is furtherance of a state’s legitimate duty and responsibility to accommodate viable commerce within and beyond its borders.”