Tractor-trailers cause safety concerns in Wyoming Valley

With restrictions on tractor-trailer traffic on two major roadways entering and leaving the Wyoming Valley, a Wilkes-Barre Township resident believes big rig drivers are dangerously detouring over a steep, winding road that is unsafe for heavy vehicles.

Chuck Revitt said he has noticed more tractor-trailers traveling East Northampton Street to ascend and descend Wilkes-Barre Mountain in an area called Giants Despair. He said it's an accident waiting to happen as there are homes, including his own, at the bottom of Giants Despair in Wilkes-Barre Township.

"A lot of these tractor-trailers are going right over Giants Despair and they're getting stuck at Devils Elbow," Revitt said. "A few weeks ago, a tow truck had to be called because one of those trailers got stuck."

According to the Pennsylvania Internet Traffic Monitoring System, 1,404 vehicles use East Northampton Street through Giants Despair each day.

Since tractor-trailers were prohibited from using Route 309 a few weeks ago due to construction, Revitt said the tractor-trailer traffic there has increased. Tractor-trailers also are prohibited on Route 115 in Plains Township as drivers are urged to use the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Bear Creek to Pittston to reach their destinations in the Wyoming Valley.

But attempting to tackle Giants Despair pits massive, heavy vehicles against severely challenging topography, notably a bend known as Devil's Elbow.

That is a 130-degree curve, one of many sharp turns as the roadway ascends and descends 650 feet along the one-mile stretch between Wilkes-Barre Township and Laurel Run.

Along a quarter-mile stretch on top of the mountain, East Northampton Street descends 22 degrees, according to the Giants Despair Hillclimb Association, which hosts one of the oldest motor racing events in the world. Its annual run was held earlier this month.

Michael Taluto, safety press officer for District 4, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said there are restrictions for tractor-trailers for that stretch of East Northampton Street.

Taluto said trailers up to 96 inches (eight feet) wide are permitted while the descending weight restriction is 10.5 tons. Most trailers are 102 inches (eight feet, six inches) wide, Taluto said.

Taluto said there are signs along Laurel Run Road in Laurel Run warning tractor-trailers about the restrictions on East Northampton Street, including one sign that directs drivers to Pine Run Road on top of Giants Despair.

Revitt said several if not all of the signs are covered with trees and brush.

Trooper Tom Kelly, spokesperson for the state police at Wyoming, which patrols Laurel Run, said tractor-trailer drivers have been cited for violating the restrictions.

A check with District Judge Michael Dotzel, who handles criminal, civil and traffic cases in Wilkes-Barre Township, Laurel Run, Bear Creek Township, Bear Creek Village and Buck Township, did not produce any recent citations for tractor-trailer drivers using East Northampton Street.

Wilkes-Barre Township police Lt. Kevin Kistler said there are no road signs in Wilkes-Barre Township warning tractor-trailer drivers headed uphill to Laurel Run.

Since East Northampton Street is a state-owned road, PennDOT would be responsible to erect warning signs, Kistler said, noting that township council has begun working with the state transportation agency to install signage in the township.

Revitt said tractor-trailer drivers are clearly ignoring the restrictions that are posted in Laurel Run. He said he first noticed more big rigs using Giants Despair a few years ago, when global positioning systems hit the market.

As other roads are blocked, GPS may be guiding truckers to the more dangerous alternate route.

"They can't take 115 and the turnpike is out of their way because it takes them to Pittston, and they can't use 309 now due to construction," Revitt said. "So what is in the middle? Giants Despair."

"If any of those tractor trailers lose their brakes, I couldn't even imagine what would happen," he said.

The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.