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February 01, 2005

“Let’s Blame The Trucks !!”

What’s the biggest cause of congestion and delays on I-95? Just ask anyone who drives that route, day or night, and they’ll say… TRUCKS! Unfortunately, those opinions, while popular, are not support by the facts.

Those of you who know me should recognize that I’m no apologist for the trucking industry. I’d love to get trucks off of the highways and onto freight cars on rails. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely in the foreseeable future (the topic for a whole other column). Neither is the token effort of barging a few hundred trucks a day from New York docks to Bridgeport going to make much difference, though I still support that idea as well. Rather than looking for a scapegoat, let’s consider the facts before we blame truckers for the mess we have created.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It is all of us, in single occupancy vehicles (s.o.v.’s), that cause the congestion, not trucks. Here are the facts:

Ø Trucks are high occupancy vehicles. They don’t drive up and down the interstates empty. They’re delivering goods that we want to buy. How do you think the big boxes get to “the big box stores”? Every piece of clothing, item of food… yes, even the newsprint you are holding, was delivered by truck. Our insatiable consumption created this demand.

Ø Trucks are only permitted on the interstate highways, while s.o.v’s can use local streets or the parkway. Did you know that the average journey on I-95 is less than ten miles? We local residents use our interstates like cross-town shortcuts and wonder why they’re congested.

Ø Trucks deliver their goods when the merchants tell them. Why are trucks on I-95 at rush hour? Because selfish store owners won’t accept deliveries outside of the 9 am to 5 pm store hours they find convenient. In parts of Manhattan, by law, all truck deliveries must be made at night… and the daytime street traffic flows freely.

Ø Trucks are responsible for most of the accidents. Wrong. Sure, trucks do occasionally jackknife, dump their contents and cause delays… but often those accidents are caused by s.o.v. drivers. CDOT statistics prove that most accidents on I-95 involve cars, not trucks. In general, I think truck drivers are better than automobile drivers. It’s what they do for a living. Unlike s.o.v. drivers, they don’t juggle a cell-phone, toddler and a latte while operating their vehicle.

Ø How about the truck inspection stations? Why aren’t they open more hours? Good question… and best answered by the NIMBY politicians from Greenwich, whose clout has kept those safety stations closed so their tony neighbors won’t complain. Even the trucking industry supports greater safety vigilance, so let’s open those inspection stations 24 x 7… and hit ‘em all with a toll while they’re there, especially those trucks that are just “passing thru” the state, treating Connecticut like “drive over country”.

And while we’re at it, let’s force the industry to design a cleaner diesel engine to save whatever is left of our LA-quality air. Let’s open more parking areas so road-weary truckers don’t have to sleep on the shoulder at night. And sure, let’s pass a law stopping truckers from using “jake brakes” to noisily downshift. I’m all in favor of safer, cleaner and quieter trucks.

But let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to explaining the true cause of our traffic mess. Next time you’re crawling up I-95, look around you. Count the number of s.o.v’s and the number of trucks. Then tell me… who’s really causing the delays? It may be easy to blame it on the trucks… but it’s not true.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 13 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

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