City looks at limiting through truck traffic

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By Tom Wilmoth

Several times each year, a tractor-trailer attempts—and fails—to navigate the turn from Main Street onto North Bridge. Bedford Police Chief Jim Day wants the city to have better control of that issue.

    Day presented a report to Bedford City Council last Tuesday, going over several options the city has to regulate through truck traffic at that intersection.
    “It’s an issue we’ve had over probably 20 or 30 years,” Day said. “We have a downtown that was built decades ago and it was not built to facilitate a tractor trailer making those turns and traveling down North Bridge.”
    Day said the corner is tight there and the street is narrow with cars parked on one side of N. Bridge Street. The intersection has produced several tractor-trailer accidents there the past year, with the yellow concrete bollards being knocked down or awning being taken off of buildings.
    “We’ve         had        those completely knocked down and dragged away by tractor-trailers,” he said.
    The pedestrian crosswalk poles have also been struck.
    “We’re looking for a way to minimize that,” he said of the problem. “We’re never going to stop every truck.  But we’re trying to eliminate accidents at that corner.”
    Day said the city worked with the Virginia Department of Transportation to put up 46 signs redirecting through trucks from the Centertown area to different alternative routes. Those signs were put up at entrances to the city on U.S. 460, U.S. 221, Va. 122 and Route 43 north. He said many of the trucks that come through the downtown area do so even though they don’t have a reason to do so.
    "I think the driver’s appreciate an easier route if they know about one,” Day said. “It’s just a matter of them learning the route.”
    The problem is that many are directed through Centertown by GPS or computer-generated mapping directions. In addition to the intersection at N. Bridge St. and Main, those units sometimes also lead trucks down the Fourth Street underpass, resulting in a truck striking that underpass.
    The issue, he said, is not with those trucks going through Centertown to make deliveries to businesses in the area.
    “Those drivers know that turning on North Bridge is not the way to go,” he added. “Other drivers may not be familiar with it.”
    The city has several alternatives. The initial signs that were put up in 2009 have helped, but not stopped the problem. Day said putting up additional signs, that would disallow through trucks from turning onto North Bridge from Main Street would help, because it would give police the right to stop any driver that didn’t follow the directive. Currently a truck cannot be stopped unless there is a traffic violation that permits the stop. Seeing a truck on N. Bridge or turning onto N. Bridge without an officer knowing that it is a through truck does not currently justify a traffic stop.
    Another alternative is to work with the Commonwealth Transportation Board to regulate and disallow the through truck traffic at that intersection. The board would have up to nine months to make a decision if it would make that distinction. If done, it eventually could result in a change to the routes given by GPS or computer mapping programs.
    Council also directed city staff to study the possibility of moving the pedestrian crosswalk pole farther from the street.
    Since 2005, accidents involving tractor-trailers at that intersection have ranged from two to four per year.
    “That corner is just not made for tractor trailers to turn,” Day said.