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Trucks restricted to right lane of I-10 between Casa Grande and Phoenix

In this Aug. 24, 2016, file photo, truck and automobile traffic mix on Interstate 5, headed north through Fife, Wash., near the Port of Tacoma.
File photo
In this file photo, truck and automobile traffic mix.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- It's billed by the Department of Transportation as a way to improve safety.
But the head of the Arizona Trucking Association says the move to restrict all trucks to just the right lane of Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Phoenix is nothing short of stupid. And Anthony Bradley scoffed at the claim by ADOT that it had "coordinated'' the plan with his organization.
The idea, according to ADOT spokesman Garin Groff, stems from accidents along the 20-mile stretch that has yet to be widened to three lanes in each direction.
More to the point, the agency says heavy vehicles were involved in about 20 percent of crashes in that corridor and 15 percent of rear-end and sideswipe accidents. And when there are accidents, the freeway can end up being closed to everyone.
"This is an attempt to try to reduce the number of heavy truck-related incident in the area,'' Groff said.
Bradley, however, said that's making a presumption that the truckers were at fault.
"We let them know that a lot of those accidents were probably the fault of the speeding cars that are traveling recklessly throughout that corridor,'' he said. "Moving all the trucks to the right-hand lane doesn't solve that problem.''
And there's a more practical concern.
It means that the slowest vehicle in the right lane sets the pace for everyone behind. So a truck following someone towing a motor home at 45 miles an hour -- where the speed limit is set at 75 -- has no choice but to play follow the leader for the entire 20-mile stretch.
And heavy truck traffic of everyone behind is slowed to the same crawl.
This isn't a short-term issue.
Signs already are going up informing truckers of the restrictions which, in turn, will empower Department of Public Safety officers to ticket errant drivers under a section of law that makes it illegal to not obey traffic signs.
ADOT says the signs will remain up until additional lanes are added in each direction. And even with lawmakers approving a $400 million infusion this year to speed up the work, the target for completion is sometime in 2026.
In a news release, ADOT said it has worked to "coordinate'' the plan with the Arizona Trucking Association. But Bradley said that's overstating the input his organization got in the decision.
" 'Coordinate' is probably the wrong term,'' he said.
"They informed us of their decision,'' he said. "We informed them of, frankly, the stupidity of the decision.''
Bradley also said that ADOT rejected ideas that would minimize the impact on truck traffic -- and deal with the backups that could result.
"We had asked that, if they were going to do it, that they create some space for us to have passing ability,'' he said, short breaks in that 20-mile stretch where a truck could legally get around a slow-moving vehicle. Bradley said his organization also suggested reducing the trucks-in-right-lane-only stretch to something less than 20 miles.
"They listened to us and obviously are doing what they believe they need to do,'' he said, chiding the agency for its decision.
"It's a typical 'affect 20 percent and the other 80 percent are free to do what they want,' '' Bradley said.
Beyond that, Bradley said he foresees other complicating factors in the ADOT decision that he believes actually could make the traffic and safety situation even worse.
"You're going to have passenger vehicles in the left-hand lane holding up people,'' he said, as the trucks occupy the right lane.
"People are going to get frustrated,'' Bradley continued. "They're going to have no place to go and they're going to continue to cause accidents.''
Groff said ADOT "will be monitoring the situation if there are unintended consequences.''
"And we'll make adjustments if needed,'' he said.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia