Don’t truck up Milford!

| 12 Apr 2024 | 10:55

    At the April 1 Milford Borough Council meeting, PennDOT representatives briefed council members on their plans to begin repairing the Sawkill Creek Bridge on Route 209 at the edge of Milford. They also shared alarming information about what happens after the bridge is repaired.

    It is important to understand that the bridge’s condition is presently rated “serious.” For comparison, remember Pittsburgh’s Forbes Avenue Bridge that collapsed in January, taking a bus and four cars with it? PennDOT rated that bridge as in better condition than the Sawkill Creek Bridge.

    Today the weight limit on the Sawkill Creek Bridge for two-axle vehicles is 20 tons; 25 tons for vehicles with more than two axles. The average weight of an empty 18-wheeler is 17 ½ tons, so big trucks carrying no more than 7 ½ tons of cargo (15,000 pounds) can legally cross the bridge.

    After the bridge is repaired, PennDOT said they will raise the weight limit to 40 tons (irrespective of the number of axles), the maximum allowed for any state or federal highway. The consequences for Milford could be devastating, seriously harming our commercial district and eroding our quality of life.

    In one sense, this is not new. Years ago, there was so much truck traffic through Milford that it merited a front-page story in The New York Times. On Nov. 30, 1982, the Times wrote about the problems caused by “about 3,000 tractor-trailers a day” that passed through our village, as it was an economical shortcut for trucking into and out of the greater New York City metropolitan area.

    When Dick Snyder and I bought the Hotel Fauchere in 2000, a member of the Fauchere family told us the main reason the hotel closed — after 124 years — was the truck traffic. “The building rumbled and vibrated day and night. You couldn’t open a window without a layer of soot and grime from the exhaust settling on the beds and tablecloths!” they said.

    Most of the truck traffic back then traveled Route 209 between Milford and Stroudsburg, through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The trucks could not at the time take the New Jersey route to and from I-80, as parts of routes 206 and 15 were too curvy or weight-restricted.

    The problem was solved in 1982, when the National Park Service prohibited most truck traffic on Route 209 through the park, eliminating the shortcut and dramatically reducing truck traffic in Milford.

    In the years since, routes 206 and 15 in New Jersey have been upgraded; the weight limit from the Milford/Montague Bridge to I-80 is now 40 tons the entire route. The only reason the truck traffic hasn’t returned here, using that route, is because years ago, PennDOT, for safety reasons, reduced the weight limit on the Sawkill Creek Bridge.

    How many of the 1 million trucks per year passing through Milford back in the late 70s and early 80s are likely to return when the weight limit to on the bridge becomes 40 tons? How does the explosion of mega-warehouses in the NY/NJ/PA region affect that projection?

    We already have more legal truck traffic in Milford than most of us want. The trucks are noisy, dirty and contribute little, if anything, to our local economy. It is not rare for trucks to speed, disregard the traffic light or fail to stop for pedestrians.

    We do our best to address traffic violations and illegal overweight trucks via enforcement, but it is difficult. The nearest state weighing facility is at the I-84 Promised Land exit, 20+ miles away. When an officer pulls over a truck, it requires extensive and costly training to write overweight citations. They can (and do) call the Pennsylvania State Police for assistance, but PSP often isn’t available in a timely manner.

    There is not even a parking area within the borough large enough to readily pull over an 18-wheeler for the time-consuming inspection, without impeding traffic or creating a hazard. The officer must take them to cooperative private properties nearby in Milford or Dingman townships, frequently resulting in no police coverage in the borough during that time.

    Milford Borough Council members ultimately do not have control over state or federal highways going through Milford, but I urge them to do everything in their power, including enlisting our county commissioners and our representatives in Harrisburg and Washington, to persuade PennDOT and the federal DOT, if necessary, to leave the current weight restrictions on the Sawkill Creek Bridge in place.

    Milford is a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly village with a tourism-based economy driven by our historic charm. Let’s not truck it up!

    Sean Strub, Mayor

    Milford Borough