If there's one place in Vermont a big truck should never go, it's Smugglers' Notch. But since trucks still do get stuck in the notch, the Vermont Agency of Transportation is working on figuring out new ways to warn approaching drivers.
The road up over the notch between Stowe and Cambridge is a stunning seasonal drive, but it's a very winding and narrow hill. According to the Stowe Reporter, since 2009 there have been almost 50 vehicles that got stuck in Smugglers' Notch.
Josh Schultz, transportation systems management and operations manager at VTrans, is tasked with trying to fix this problem.
Tractor-trailers are prohibited from the notch road, but they aren't the only vehicles that can get stuck. Schultz explained to Vermont Edition Thursday that while RVs and buses are not banned from the notch, they are advised to avoid it, as factors like the driver's skill or pedestrians can still make that passage more difficult.
A commercial vehicle driving through Smugglers' Notch could be looking at a $1,197 fine – and there are steeper financial penalties if it isn't the first offense or if traffic has been obstructed.
Despite signs warning trucks not to take Route 108 through the notch, the issue of stuck trucks has persisted. Schultz says after trying out a number of different locations for such signs over the years, VTrans has now settled on locations to install permanent electronic warning signs.
"We're hoping that in these newer locations that the truckers will see them maybe even better than the other locations we've tried in the past," Schultz says. "And also if they do see them, have a chance to turn around and get back down the hill before they get hung up on the rocks."
Installing larger signs measuring 8 feet by 11 feet on both the Stowe and Cambridge sides of the notch is the "Plan A" solution under way, Schultz says – though he acknowledges that signs aren't a perfect fix to the problem.
There are other possibilities under consideration to alleviate the notch blocks, he adds. One such example would take stock of a vehicle's size as it approaches the notch.
"It would be called an 'electronic measuring device' that would be alongside the road that would measure the length of the vehicle coming through," Schultz explains. "And then if it exceeded a certain length that we deemed to probably not be able to make it through the notch, we would then automatically light up a board just ahead that would say ... something to the effect of, you know, 'Turn around.' "
Another idea being floated would allow for a kind of obstacle course on an earlier, flatter portion of the road in order to recreate the notch's conditions – including the most difficult turn, Schultz explains – for a truck to maneuver.
"If a truck got hung up in the barrier or hit a tubular marker, they would know that, 'OK, I'm not going to be able to make that turn ... up at the top of the notch where the stakes are higher,' " Schultz says.
In addition, this test course would be able to keep other traffic moving even if a truck was caught at that juncture.
"We'd also build a gated bypass lane next to that obstacle course, so that if a truck did get hung up on the barrier in the obstacle course area, a first responder could then open up that gate and then get regular passenger vehicles through so we wouldn't end up holding up traffic," Schultz adds.
As the agency continues to figure out how to address the issue of stuck trucks, Schultz does note that there are also some challenges to work out with proposed ideas.
"If we did an obstacle course type solution, that would involve purchasing right of way," he says. "It's a real scenic drive through there ... Building the bypass lane, a gated bypass lane, and the right of way purchasing – you know, there's a cost to that and maybe even aesthetic cost to that, too."
Update 4:59 p.m. This post was updated to include the information on potential financial penalties associated with driving through Smugglers' Notch.
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