JACKSON TWP. – Gary VanderBent watched Wednesday from the side of the road as an 18-wheeler turned onto Manhattan-Arsenal Road near his Jackson Township home, ignoring several signs along the way stating semitrailers heavier than 15 tons and 55 feet in length are banned.
VanderBent signaled with his hands for the truck driver to turn around, but the driver continued heading west toward Interstate 55 and the nearby intermodals.
“They don’t care. Some of them just don’t care. Others are genuinely confused and are following GPS,” VanderBent said. “Some of them get down about this far and pull off to the side thinking, ‘OK, now what do I do? Do I take my chances?’ ”
Trucks are supposed to use the Interstate 55 and Arsenal Road interchange. But even with Elwood and Will County law enforcement watching, most of the trucks try to find the quickest route to reach either the Joliet or Elwood intermodals.
CenterPoint Properties has no control over how truckers choose to access to intermodals. The Oak Brook-based developer in the past has erected billboards along area interstates encouraging the use of the Interstate 55 and Arsenal Road interchange.
Residents believe trucks use Manhattan-Arsenal Road because it’s a direct route from Route 53 and to the Joliet and Elwood intermodals. It also lies just north of the now-closed Walter Strawn Drive, previously a major access point for truckers into the intermodals.
“Some days, I’ll take a lawn chair and sit out there with a can of pop and a stopwatch, just to see how many trucks go by every 15 minutes,” VanderBent said.
VanderBent is among the residents living along the stretch of Manhattan-Arsenal Road from Route 53 to Baseline Road who want the peace and quiet of the neighborhood back. Reducing the weight limit from 15 tons to 5 tons would do just that, said Larry Banas, another Jackson Township resident.
The traffic always has been a problem, he said. Although residents are supportive of the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing closure that occurred in January, the truck traffic along Manhattan-Arsenal Road has since increased, Banas said.
Safety also is a concern. An Elwood resident was killed in April when his car collided with a semitrailer truck traveling on Manhattan-Arsenal Road.
“This is not a truck route, but that is what it is becoming,” Banas said.
He said residents gathered 503 signatures earlier this year for a petition requesting a solution to the truck traffic, and in response, Will County – which has jurisdiction over the road – lowered the speed limit from 50 to 45 mph.
But residents say the speed limit already is 45 mph in the residential areas, and 50 mph elsewhere.
“We didn’t want the speed limit decreased. We want the trucks gone. We didn’t ask for these trucks,” said Mary Barney, another resident. “By reducing the speed limit, they’re acting like they’re doing us a favor.”
‘If Rockdale can,
why can’t we?’
Will County and Elwood officials say they are concerned a 5-ton weight limit could lead to legal challenges.
Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Will County Executive Larry Walsh, said the county believes lowering the speed limit is a step in the right direction for public safety.
“We’re trying to balance. Our job is to protect the residents, but at the same time, the businesses are important, too,” Palmer said.
Elwood spokesman Scott Burnham said the village has unsuccessfully asked Will County to give the village jurisdiction over the road. But Elwood officials now say they are equally concerned about lowering the weight limit to 5 tons because of the possibility of a legal challenge.
Burnham cited July 2014, when the village erected traffic barriers at Walter Strawn Drive to prevent trucks from using the route to enter the intermodal. CenterPoint Properties and businesses within the intermodal successfully petitioned for a federal court order to reopen the roadway on the grounds that the barriers interfered with interstate commerce.
The Illinois Commerce Commission – which oversees the state’s railways –later ordered the closure of the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing amid safety concerns. But Elwood officials are worried they would be hit with a similar legal challenge if they were to reduce the weight limit along Manhattan-Arsenal, Burnham said.
“For that very reason, we should work within Will County’s jurisdiction to enact a new, reduced weight limit,” Burnham said.
But Jackson Township residents such as Brad Pierce said both local governments should attempt to lower the weight limit, pointing to Rockdale’s 8-ton weight limit along stretches of Moen, Meadow and Mounds roads within the village’s jurisdiction aimed to curb heavy truck traffic.
“If Rockdale can, why can’t we?” Pierce said.
Banas agreed, saying they’re not giving up yet.
“We want to make sure we turn over every stone,” he said.
Matt Hart, executive director with the Illinois Trucking Association, said the nonprofit does not recommend trucks take that route, but reducing the weight limit to 5 tons goes too far because that locks out cabs or trucks without loaded trailers.
“There’s always opportunity for a legal challenge,” Hart said. “As far as the [Illinois Trucking Association] goes, safety is our most important objective. We certainly don’t want any trucks going across if it’s truly unsafe. But we also want to be sure local governments don’t just abuse their power just because they don’t want trucks going down this road.”