Residents along Newport Gap Pike blame tractor-trailers that regularly rumble past their homes for sleepless nights to broken windows to potholes.
A law designed to limit noise from heavy-truck engines passing through Delaware residential areas is difficult to enforce because of a “loophole” written into its recently-adopted text, a state police officer said Monday at a town hall meeting attended by irate residents, who live along Del. 41.
The act, which bans the use of the cacophonous tractor-trailer braking system, known as jake brakes, passed the General Assembly last year. But a truck driver may still use the auxiliary, engine-compression brakes, if there is an emergency, Delaware State Police Lt. Mike Wysock said.
“Here’s what happens when you go to court…all you have to say is ‘your honor (the traffic light) was yellow, I didn’t want to run a red light,’ so it was an emergency and (the ticket) gets dropped,” Wysock said to the crowd of more than 100 residents, who for years have been petitioning the state to more strictly regulate the heavy trucks that pass by their houses.
“Everyone thinks, ‘oh, he jake braked, so we can go and arrest him.’ Well, you can, but as soon as you stop him, he’s got a valid excuse that’s going to get (the ticket) dropped,” Wysock added.
The Monday-night meeting, which occurred at Cedars Methodist Church, was the latest in a series of public gatherings by residents who are fed up with what they describe as loud trucks that speed daily – and nightly – through residential neighborhoods along the Del. 41 and Del. 48 corridors between Wilmington and Hockessin.
The noise and vibrations from the big rigs damage foundations of houses and other structures near the roadway, including Cedar Methodist, which sits a block from Del. 41, said Bill Taylor, an area resident and trustee of the church.
Kim Williams, the sponsor of the anti-jake braking bill last year, was perplexed that the law was not having its desired effect. Further legislation may be necessary, she said at Monday’s meeting. She also expressed concern that any citation issued by an officer, who is not part of the state police’s dedicated truck enforcement team, does not show up on a truck driver’s federal registration.
”There was a little confusion there…my understanding is that they are issuing tickets and it affects their driving record,” she said.
Frustration with the heavy trucks caused a feud to arise over the last year between residents who live on Del. 41 and Del. 48, with each side insisting the other is more suitable for the trucks that pass between Wilmington and Lancaster.
The neighbors angrily accused the others of menacingly manipulating state transportation department into first placing, and then removing, signs that directed heavy trucks onto Del. 48.
But that neighborhood infighting showed signs of diminishing Monday after many sounded a conciliatory tone despite continued frustration over the trucks that avoid police scrutiny.
“The problem that we have now is going to take cooperation from everyone, 41 and 48,” Taylor said at the meeting.
The truck-traffic dispute last year also caused political ramifications statewide after many observers say former-Senate Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, was unseated after the November election because of her stance that traffic engineers, not politicians, should decide the issue.
Republican Senator Anthony Delcollo took her spot to represent the district of residents who live along both the Del. 41 and 48 corridors.
Yet at the meeting Monday, scorn appeared to have shifted away from fellow neighbors and legislators. Instead, it zeroed in on Delaware Department of Transportation officials, who were noticeably absent. Williams said she was “embarrassed” that DelDOT had not attended.
Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Hockessin, echoed the sentiment at the meeting, asking rhetorically, “is anyone here from the governor’s office? Who is his cabinet secretary?”
“In her absence, where is the executive branch of government? They make the decisions,” Brady said.
DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan, in an email to the meeting organizer Mary Anne Summers, said she could not attend because she is currently out of the country. It is unclear why another representative from DelDOT did not attend. State officials attended numerous previous public gatherings on the issue during the past year.
After the 3-hour meeting came to a close, Delcollo said the state should immediately look into installing signs on Del. 41 that warn truck drivers of nearby traffic lights and should consider adjusting the speed limit.
“There are some things that would require minimal investment with infrastructure, (and) we could get to them very quickly,” he said.
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