t’s time to put the brakes on the traffic situation on North and South River roads.
Last month a series of signs reminiscent of the “Burma Shave” campaigns of yesteryear popped up along the roads. They were the brainchild of a group called Citizens for River Road Safety, a group that is fed up with hazards that have popped up on what should be lazy, scenic stretches of asphalt along the Tuckaseigee River.
The roads in question are the sort of typical, twisting narrow ribbons of secondary road found in the mountains, built neither for speed nor heavy vehicles. Today, they have both.
Instead, those narrow ribbons have increased vehicular traffic, no doubt due in part to population growth in the county, particularly in the Cullowhee area. The area has also seen a huge jump in construction traffic, i.e. dump trucks.
The spike in dump truck numbers has occurred because the main route between Sylva and Dillsboro, U.S. 23 Business, is currently blocked to loaded dump trucks by bridges over Scotts Creek, one at Jackson Paper and one between Dillsboro and Sylva, which can’t support their weight. Plans are in the works to replace both bridges.
But in the meantime, the dump trucks have had to find another route. And in the river roads, they’ve found them.
Consider that compact cars average around 5 and three-quarters feet in width, mid-sized cars 6 feet, large SUVs around 6-and-a-half feet. Two SUVs passing on these roads is a tight squeeze. A typical dump truck is 10 feet wide. There’s virtually zero room for error.
Pam Krauss, with Citizens for River Road Safety, said her group counted 26 dump trucks on the 900 block of South River Road in a half-hour span on July 8. Krauss said one dump truck ran her off the road, and she was almost in a head-on collision when another vehicle was attempting to pass a slow-moving dump truck.
“We had a face-to-face,” Krauss said. “Lots of swerving occurred, avoiding a very close head-on. That’s just one person. We all have the same stories.”
It’s not just dump trucks; it’s speeding, by everyone. The safety group made a number of speed observations, and Krauss reported “Speeding occurs by all kinds of vehicles – passenger cars, commercial vehicles, dump trucks. It occurs at all different times of the day. In extreme cases, more than 15 mph over the speed limit.”
Eric Myers of Webster said the safety group would like to see the following:
• Expanded enforcement of speed limits and other traffic regulations.
• Speed-limit reduction appropriate for the vehicle mix and road conditions.
• Reduced or eliminated usage by damaging, heavy or oversized vehicles and improved roads to accommodate them.
• A declaration making the roads scenic byways, to provide for safety and enjoyment of the bordering Tuckaseigee River.
• Any other measures that might encourage safe use and enjoyment of the roads.
Webster’s Jenfier Montsinger said, “I think it’s important for people to understand that this is not a ‘not in my back yard’ issue, this is a safety issue. Not just for those of us who live along the road, but for the fishermen there, for the bicyclists who go up and down the road.”
She’s right. The safety group has presented a reasonable list of requests, a list that should be a priority for county leaders.
The sooner, the better. The ingredients for a potential tragedy are in place. Best not to leave this situation stewing in the pot for long.