Whitehall News

Through truck traffic

Discussion on strengthening city ordinance hits dead end

Current code unenforceable, city leaders say

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Whitehall City Council, based on an opinion from the city attorney's office, has opted not to consider any changes to the current city code concerning through truck traffic on the city's residential streets.

Assistant City Attorney Matt Roth told council members at their June 24 committees meeting that the current city code was not an enforceable instrument.

"There are enforcement issues," said Roth, citing a lack of equipment to efficiently weigh commercial vehicles, constitutional violations if only specific kinds of vehicles were designated illegal, and possible manpower and safety issues if the city's police department investigated reported violations of overweight trucks or those using residential streets to circumvent busier thoroughfares.

"Police can't just sit around and wait for it to happen," Roth said of drivers using neighborhood streets as a cut-through to make commercial deliveries at area businesses.

The city's current ordinance prohibits any trucks with a gross weight in excess of 7 tons from using any street in Whitehall, except for East Main Street, East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road. The code outlines exceptions for truck traffic on residential streets.

Those exceptions include police, fire and maintenance department vehicles and those making deliveries on the street of travel or "a connecting cross street."

Council members asked for an opinion from the city's attorney's office after Doney Street resident Gerald Dixon complained about commercial truck traffic on his street.

Roth said the commercial truck traffic on the street "does not appear to be a violation of current city code."

Further, Roth said, the current code is cumbersome at best to enforce, and in other instances, not enforceable at all.

"We don't have the scales to weigh trucks. We'd have to (ask another agency) to bring scales (and) then unload and reload a truck," said Roth, adding that one probable violation would keep at least one officer off the street for more than half of an eight-hour shift.

Roth also said probable cause would be a hurdle.

"The police can't stop a driver just because (the officer) thinks it might be overweight," Roth said.

Stopping drivers to determine a destination poses an equal problem, he said.

"We must have probable cause to stop them," he said.

In order to make the weight limit enforceable, signs stating the limit would have to be posted at each entrance into the city.

"We need to make them aware of the law," Roth said.

Mayor Kim Maggard and Safety Director Chuck Underwood concurred with the assessment.

"I don't see a problem. If we enforce this as it's being proposed, it's for something that is not an issue. There are far more serious crimes and responsibilities (for our police to address)," Underwood said.

Several council members appeared to lobby for a solution, but ultimately chose not to act.

Council President Jim Graham challenged the city attorney's office to craft an ordinance to meet council's intent.

"Regardless of what we do, it would be unenforceable," Roth replied.

Councilman Robert Bailey argued drivers could be made to show police required documentation indicating weight, but Roth said the document would not show its weight at that moment, still requiring police to weigh it.

"It's a simple solution," said Councilman Wes Kantor, asking for the placement of signs on streets where through-truck traffic is identified as a concern.

But Maggard reiterated the problem of enforcement.

Bailey suggested abolishing the entire section of code if it is unenforceable, but no action was initiated to do so.

"There is nothing for us to do then," Bailey said.

Public comment is not permitted at meetings of council committees, but Dixon said after the meeting he was frustrated officials "minimized" his complaint and that officials "stretched the limits of plausibility" in arguing why the issue can't be resolved.

Dixon said the continued traffic diminishes his quality of life.

"It's like having a garden located in a construction site," Dixon said of his residence and recent improvements he had made to it.

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