Truck concerns a 'balancing act' for city

Staff Writer

Residents' concerns about heavy trucks on city streets, especially in residential areas, illustrate the delicate line city leaders sometimes must walk to balance the interests of job-creating industries with those of voting constituents.

During meetings this week, West Point Selectwoman Leta Turner and Police Chief Avery Cook brought up a complaint from a resident of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive about heavy trucks using the residential street to reach Navistar on East Half Mile Street.

That discussion prompted reports of trucks from Ellis Steel and other traffic wearing out the edges of Bugg Street which runs between Highway 45 Alternate to North Division Street.

Johnson and Public Works Director Joey Wright agreed to post "No Trucks" signs on MLK Drive and possibly on Main Street to keep trucks off the street. The problem arose previously but a discussion with Navistar management dramatically reduced the problem.

"Industries and their jobs are such a big part of the community, especially these two, and at the same time, residents in neighborhoods must be respected," Selectman Keith McBrayer said, noting that particularly in the Navistar case, the residential areas developed around what once were huge industrial areas.

Technology in the form of longer truck trailers, which now stretch 53 feet if not more in some cases, compound the problem.

With Navistar's help, the city has tried to steer trucks servicing the plant to Eshman Avenue or Highway 45 Alternate. That has had success but because GPS devices still show MLK Drive as the most-direct route, some truck drivers unfamiliar with the area ended up on the residential street. Once there, it's difficult for them to do anything else.

And they often regret the move because at the end, they are faced with a difficult two-way turn off MLK onto Half Mile and then immediately into the plant.

"The truckers don't like it either," McBrayer said.

"We may have to do more with signage to make it more clear," he added.

"It's very important to keep jobs coming in and to keep residents happy, too. It's not always easy," added Selectman William Binder.

"We're not out to punish the drivers, but we have to represent the citizens," echoed Turner. "If we can agree on solutions and that we don't want trucks in neighborhoods, then we can't ignore the residents."
Cook said his officers will monitor the situation on MLK. Mayor Robbie Robinson said signs and "gentle" enforcement should take care of "most of the complaints."

"Navistar is busy. They have been important in a big way for the last several years. We want to balance that," Robinson said during this week's discussions, referring to Navistar's employment which has topped 400 and continues to grow.

The Bugg Street issue is different because Ellis Steel, one of the city's most venerable employers, is located just a few feet from Highway 45 Alternate and the street splits the plant, as does Town Creek Tributary.

"Many of the concerns are raised by people driving through from one end to the other," Binder said of the frequently used cut-through, which also includes a moving company and some other busy commercial businesses.

"Ellis easily could have looked elsewhere and moved, but it has stayed here and expanded. That's worth a lot to this community. We need to pay attention to that a help , to be supportive within our ability," McBrayer said. "These companies should get back a benefit from what they pay the city in taxes.

"That's what makes these kinds of issues difficult, that balancing act. And every situation is different," McBrayer continued.