Department of Highways Weighs In On Proposed Morgantown Heavy Truck Ban
As efforts to limit heavy truck traffic in Morgantown’s downtown district continue, the WV Department of Highways is weighing in on who has jurisdiction over road regulation.
Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that, "other attempts have been made [to ban heavy truck traffic through downtown Morgantown] and failed most recently in 2006." That information was incorrect and this story has since been updated.
Safe Streets Morgantown is a group pushing for an ordinance to ban the truck traffic through Morgantown’s downtown business district.
According to their proposal, trucks weighing over 20,000 pounds with 3 or more axles would be unable to drive through Morgantown, with exceptions. Those exceptions include emergency, government, solid waste, towing and delivery vehicles, as well as vehicles detoured through the city, and those vehicles who receive a permit from the city manager’s office.
A similar attempt to limit truck traffic was made in 2006. Morgantown City Council at that time elected to negotiate with the Department of Highways and local industry to find a meaningful solution; however, negotiations failed to remedy the problem.
Since then Safe Streets has examined state code and the attorney and spokesperson for group Brian McAllister says the law permits cities to pass such ordinances.
“The code, as we see it, is very clear. The Legislature has said in Chapter 17-C of our code that municipalities are in fact afforded the authority to regulate traffic consistent with their safety regulatory authority as we propose. And nowhere in the code does it say that a municipality acting within the scope of that authority needs to confer with the DOH or get the DOH’s blessing in advance of taking this type of action.”
Still, City Manager Jeff Mikorski sent a letter to the state’s Secretary of Transportation, Paul Mattox, stating that, “The City has received volumes of complaints from residents, property owners, and businesses along [State Route 7] regarding noise, debris falling out of trucks, health concerns from exhaust, safety concerns, and congestion because of the heavy truck traffic.” Mikorski’s letter cited limestone trucks in particular that travel through the town between 4am through the middle of the afternoon and requested audience with officials to discuss the proposed ordinance that would limit traffic.
The city manager says the DOH responded in word and letter expressing that the code in question, “when read in context,” doesn’t allow for local management of roads within the state road system. “Therefore,” the letter reads, “without the permission of the Commissioner, any such municipal regulation would be invalid.”
Approval or Disapproval
“This is a requirement made in hundreds if not thousands of municipalities around our country,” says Safe Streets spokesperson, Brian McAllister, “and so we don’t think that it’s too much of an imposition for these trucks going around the city. So is there hope that the DOH would join us and support us in our effort to improve our community? Yes, absolutely.”
Morgantown’s city manager, Mikorski says that he thinks the DOH’s approval is unlikely since his understanding is that DOH would only approve the ordinance if the town were to takes on all of the maintenance and road management responsibilities including snow removal and repairs.
Nevertheless, the ordinance is slated to be read at Morgantown’s next city council meeting on August 19th. A public hearing would follow, then a second reading if the order is to be passed. Whether or not the council will seek approval from the Department of Highways or challenge their interpretation of code is unknown.
***Editor’s note: The WV Department of Highways didn’t return any phone calls to discuss this story.