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Vermont Transportation Services are working hard to keep large commercial vehicles out of the Smugglers’ Notch, a winding mountain pass that has gotten numerous truckers stuck over the years.
Smugglers’ Notch, between the cities of Cambridge and Stowe, is a popular resort and ski area due to its proximity to Mount Mansfield. The top of the pass is closed to vehicles in winter as snow plowing becomes too difficult, although the road can still be used to access the ski areas on either side of the mountain.
State Route 108, which runs from Stowe to Quebec, crosses the Smugglers’ Notch.
Efforts by the Vermont Agency of Transportation to keep large carriers out of the pass result from the problem of trucks getting stuck on the narrow, winding road. VTrans Operations and Safety Bureau director Joshua Schultz said the summit, which includes a series of bends with rocks and trees bordering the sides of the road, presents a particular challenge for tractor, bus and RV drivers.
“It almost looks like you’re driving on a hiking trail,” Schultz told Transport Topics. “The problem is the long vehicles. You can’t bargain around these rocks. The degree of deadlock depends on how many mistakes you have made. “
According to the Vermont Historical Society, the name of the pass comes from the War of 1812 when smugglers used it to move supplies to and from Canada.
In general, the stuck truckers are not local hauliers. Motorists, including some from Canada, will try to use the road as a passageway. Schultz said the department had added French-language signs to its series of trucker warnings.
Captain Kevin Andrews, chief of security for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, said local truckers know they need to avoid smugglers’ notch.
In addition to static signs and electronic billboards, efforts to prevent trucks from using Smugglers’ Notch include communicating with GPS companies.
Schultz said GPS programs often guide truckers through the smugglers’ notch and drivers follow their devices instead of the signs. Truck drivers sometimes use smartphone apps that are not specifically for truck drivers and don’t ask what type of vehicle they are driving. Andrews said truck-specific GPS systems are generally more expensive than car systems.
Working with various GPS navigation companies to mark the route as unsuitable for trucks has been difficult, but communication with them will continue, Schultz said.
Also, Schultz said VTrans is in the process of forming a collaborative group with representatives from law enforcement, local businesses, neighboring cities and the Agency for Natural Resources.
Signs warn truckers into Smugglers’ Notch. (VTrans)
“That is a major priority for us right now,” said Schultz. “This is challenging because you have companies and ski resorts that are all likely to deliver big things that will require big trucks. Let’s see what solutions we can find and hopefully either solve the problem completely or at least further reduce the number of stuck trucks. “
Stuck trucks in Smugglers’ Notch have long been a problem. According to VTrans, at least three vehicles per year have got stuck on the pass since 2009. In 2020, seven vehicles got stuck while driving the route.
Supporting stuck trucks is an expensive and time-consuming process that typically takes around four hours. Andrews said moving a truck involves lifting part of the vehicle and repositioning it on the road so the driver has more room to negotiate. When a truck gets stuck, traffic builds up behind it, adding further complications for tow trucks to get to the scene of the accident.
Andrews stated that fines are issued in the form of a ticket. Fines start at $ 1,197 for drivers who use Smugglers’ Notch when they shouldn’t. If a driver gets stuck and obstructs traffic, the first offense fine is $ 2,347. If drivers are “so unhappy as to want to make another fuss,” Andrews said that subsequent violations could go as high as $ 4,647.
Andrews said that this public inconvenience could become more severe when a person needs help at one of the area’s resorts.
“People wander, people get injured, people get lost, and people get stranded on ledges,” said Andrews. “It is not uncommon for rescue workers to go up there to help someone. So you can see how one of those potential semi-trailers stuck there could really affect and affect a different kind of situation. “
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