BY BRYNA ZUMER AND MARISSA GALLO, Record staff
10:14 PM EDT, August 29, 2012
Large trucks racing down Port Deposit's steep streets is nothing new, those familiar with the town said Wednesday.
After the hazardous tanker accidents on Aug. 14 and Aug. 24, the second was fatal, residents and town officials say they are even more committed to making the accidents stop.
A propane tanker crashed into the Tome's Landing condo complex Aug. 14, prompting the evacuation of some downtown residents. That was followed 10 days later by a gasoline truck that crashed and exploded, killing its driver.
The town will try stricter enforcement of its restriction on any trucks over five tons, a rule that was only put into effect about three months ago, David Buck, of the State Highway Administration, said Wednesday.
Multiple signs reminding drivers of the restrictions will be placed at all three roads into Port Deposit, including in the town itself, Buck said.
SHA will also work with the two major mapping companies that feed to GPS devices in an attempt to avoid directing drivers through Port Deposit, he said.
Buck said the drivers in both of the recent tanker incidents did not intend to be in the town.
"In both of those instances, we have confirmed that both of the trucks were lost," he said.
Asked about the possibility that the drivers were intending to evade the I-95 tolls, Buck said the SHA is not focusing on why the trucks were there, but is trying to prevent them from being directed that way by mapping systems.
After that, he noted, "it's driver responsibility and accountability that goes into it, too."
Buck said SHA will also look into any other possibilities, such as flashing lights, that could be erected, but those would not happen any time soon.
Truck traffic has been a topic of concern in the area surrounding Port Deposit as well.
Darlington-area residents have long complained about trucks cutting through the neighborhood to bypass tolls.
In 2009, a traffic study by the Maryland Transportation Authority showed an increase in truck traffic through the Darlington and Dublin areas.
Residents suspected the cause there was signs advertising Routes 136 and 161 as detours from I-95, as well as ongoing construction on Hatem Bridge that began in spring 2008.
Traffic counts measured before a recent toll increase on I-95 – which drivers pay on the northbound side – were compared with counts after the toll increase.
The study showed daily northbound traffic volume along I-95 remains unchanged, but heavy-truck volume decreased by about 0.4 percent. Southbound heavy-truck traffic decreased by 3.2 percent.
Heavy-truck traffic on Route 1 increased from 0.3 to 0.7 percent, a change some area residents attribute to drivers trying to avoid paying the toll on I-95.
Port Deposit's deputy mayor, Kevin Morton, feels commercial trucks cutting through town is "a very serious issue because it's a matter of public safety."
He's not sure why this continues to be a problem, but has heard everything from the truck's GPS rerouting, drivers becoming lost and avoiding tolls or weigh stations.
"It's not only a matter of public safety for the residents of Port Deposit," Morton said, "but also for the truckers and the trucks that come through."
Morton said the town has "always been a thoroughfare for trucks, whether legally or illegally," and that's one reason why Port recently designated that no trucks over a certain weight are allowed in the town.
He added that the town is also working with Maryland State Police, the State Highway Administration and the Cecil County Sheriff's Office to enforce this new law, which seems to already be working.
Enforcement, Morton said, has been "ramped up" and so has signage along the more dangerous roads.
Patricia Vargas, Morton's wife and the owner of The Hidden Bean, called Friday's crash a "sad situation."
"Big trucks are trying to avoid scales and tolls, so they cut through," she said. "They're unfamiliar with the roads, and that's what happens."
Vargas noted the signs on the main streets trucks travel down, but thinks they should be moved before big hills because the signs are "almost too late to let somebody know" what lies ahead.
Over the last seven years that Vargas has lived in Port Deposit, she can recall four big truck crashes.
"I talk to people who have been here for many years and they said that right where the post office is [on Main Street] that it used to be a business and nobody would sit outside because cars would go through [the building]," she said. "It's a problem that has been going on for a long time."
The owner of CM Tugs, also on Main Street, Gayle Wysock agreed that speeding trucks and the subsequent accidents have "been an issue for years."
Wysock, too, remembers trucks crashing into the business on Main Street. She said she doesn't understand why anyone would move a post office to that area.
"As far as I'm concerned, that's Death Valley," she said. "This town has been waiting for a major accident for a long time and hasn't done anything."
Wysock believes trucks over the legal weight limit have been coming through town even more lately partly because the town's police department has dwindled and, she said, "we don't have our own police officers in our town any more."
"There should be no trucks allowed in this town unless they're here for deliveries," Wysock said. "Absolutely none. It's too dangerous."