Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Thursday, 14 December 2023 13:34

Van Dam Truck Limit May Not Be Legal

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

At the December 5, 2023, Saratoga Springs City Council meeting, Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub expressed concern about adopting a restriction on truck traffic on Van Dam Street without a thoroughly researched plan.

In the following email from former Public Safety Commissioner and County Planner Lew Benton, Benton offers his research on the efficacy of limiting such traffic without the approval of the New York State Department of Transportation.

I texted Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, asking whether he had checked with the New York State Department of State (DOT) prior to installing the signs restricting truck weight on Van Dam Street. As of this time (December 14, 2023), while Montagnino has not responded to me, I have learned he plans to contact DOT “sometime in the future.”

In a related matter, my friend, Jim Martinez, has advised me that 53-foot trucks are prohibited from using Washington Street (Route 29). Apparently, this has not been enforced.

From Lew Benton

John.

For what they’re worth, here are a few preliminary thoughts on routing Special Dimension Vehicles (SDVs) and Qualifying Access Highways.

These vehicles, or vehicle combinations, were initially authorized by the 1982 Federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act and subsequent state legislation.

Under the 1990 Omnibus Truck Safety Bill, New York authorized the use of 53 foot trailer combinations, effective November 1990. Per § 385(3)(e) of the Vehicle & Traffic Law, the 53 foot trailer combinations are restricted to the Qualifying and Access Highway system.

A Qualifying Highway is a roadway designated as part of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) of 1982, which allows Special Dimension Vehicles (tractor trailers combinations greater than 65 feet, tractors with 28-foot tandem trailers, maxi-cubes, triple saddle mounts, stinger-steered auto carriers, and boat transporters) and 53′ trailers to use that highway and any other highway within one linear mile.

Unless otherwise specified, all Special Dimension Vehicles may use Qualifying Access Highways. In addition, Special Dimension Vehicles may also operate on all highways within one road mile of Qualifying Highways (National Network) using the most reasonable and practicable route available, except for specific safety reasons on individual routes (23 CFR 658.19). The National Network consists of all Interstates plus specifically designated other highways, including most state highways.

The confluence here in Saratoga Springs of several state and interstate components (9, 9N, 29, 50, I 87) of the National Highway Network resulted in several city-owned and maintained street segments designated an “Access Highway.” Van Dam Street is so designated.

Local government has diminished authority to regulate these local access roads and streets. Imposing a weight limitation on a local access road first requires the designation of an appropriate alternative route and approval by the NYS Department of Transportation Regional Office.

It seems inconceivable that the City Council would post a local “access” roadway – as it was apparently authorized by an amendment to the City Code at its last meeting – without prior approval of the DOT. I do not know what alternate route the Council may have asked DOT. At this writing the 5 Ton Limit signs are posted on Van Dam immediately next to the posted Truck Route signs.

If DOT does not approve the Council’s action, the proposed weight limit will be unenforceable.

Perhaps the entire community and the Council members would benefit from a review of all currently designated access roads in the city, how some have been altered over time, the process necessary to amend the system, and other pertinent matters. Such a review might also include a brief history of the several by-pass proposals and initiatives that have been undertaken since 1980.

Finally, I note that V & T Law enforcement and commercial truck inspections, as measured by the number of citations issued and fines collected, seem to have declined precipitously.

In the late 80s and early 90s, following the establishment of a well-trained and equipped traffic safety unit, V & T and overweight and unsafe truck fine revenue was as high as $225,000 annually. The number of traffic citations issued annually by the SSPD increased from an average of 2,145 before the Traffic Safety Division came online in 1988 to nearly 3,300. In 1993, 46,00 tickets were issued. Vehicular accidents and personal injury accidents declined to ten-year lows. Today, that revenue line has fallen to $30,000.

Then, Truck Fines appeared in the city budget as a separate line. That line is long gone. The Traffic Safety Division, as originally constituted, was abolished at some point in time. I do not know when or why.

Lew Benton

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