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Multi-trailer 84-foot-long trucks could be coming to local roads, thanks to federal bill

Extra-long trucks with double trailers could soon be riding on local roads like Sound Avenue, Northville Turnpike and Route 58, thanks to a proposed federal transportation bill.

The bill, which has already made it through the House and is being considered by the Senate, would allow multi-trailer trucks up to 84 feet long on roads in the federal national highway system network.

New York State currently bans trucks more than 65 feet long on its roads, but the proposed federal bill would override state law, allowing trucks more than 80 feet long to ride on state highways across the country.

That’s about the size of an eight-story building turned on its side, according to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who announced today he will do everything in his power to block the provision.

The double tractor-trailers would be allowed to travel on National Highway System roads, which include a route through Riverhead. Tandem tractor-trailers up to 84 feet long would travel from the Long Island Expressway to Route 58, where they would turn left onto Northville Turnpike and head toward Sound Avenue.

The trucks would then make a right-hand turn from Northville Turnpike onto Sound Avenue and head east until Sound Avenue becomes Route 48 and eventually turns into Route 25. The national highway system route continues east all the way to Orient Point.

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“We have older roads here, and a lot of them aren’t built to handle that kind of traffic, the weight and size of the truck,” Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said tonight. “As much as I like Queens, we don’t want to let our towns turn into Queens. If we have to address this at the county level I’m sure we’ll have a lot of support to limit the size of the trucks.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the length increase would be “catastrophic,” not only in terms of impacts to town road infrastructure but also in terms of public safety.

“There’s no way a truck that size could make the right turn onto Sound Avenue from Northville Turnpike without entering the oncoming lane,” Walter said. “It’s dangerous.”

There is also the matter of keeping the trucks off town roads and making sure they stick to the route designated by the national highway system.

Although the proposed federal bill doesn’t explicitly give the double tractor-trailers permission to drive on roads other than those in the national highway system, Riverhead Town only prohibits trucks from driving on a handful of town roads. That could become a major issue with larger multi-trailer trucks in town.

In May, the Riverhead Town Board said they were considering a “truck route” to require large trucks to use only certain roads after dozens of residents packed a public hearing complaining about truck traffic. The town board had just recently voiced their opposition to any federal measure that would increase the length or weight of tractor-trailer in a May 5 resolution.

But town board action on a designated truck route anytime soon is unlikely, according to Dunleavy.

“The problem is that we have a lot of local people, farmers and growers, that use tractor-trailers,” said Dunleavy, who is chairman of the town board’s traffic safety committee. “We don’t want legislation to hurt our local people. We already restricted them from going up Mill Road. If we restrict them much more, you’re going to put local people out of business. It’s taking us time to think of what we’re going to do.”

With the possibility of significantly larger tractor-trailers driving through town, however, Dunleavy acknowledged that the issue is even more pressing.

But tonight Walter questioned whether the town could ban tractor-trailers from roads that are part of the federally designated national highway system, which includes the route on Northville Turnpike and Sound Avenue.

The proposed federal bill would permit twin 33-foot trucks on the National Highway System (see map), increased from the 28-foot trailers currently allowed. Combined with the length of the truck’s cab and the section connecting the two trailers, double trucks under the new law could be 84 feet long.

“The fact of the matter is, these longer, double-hitched tractor-trailers are a tremendous road safety risk to people and infrastructure alike,” Schumer said in his announcement today.

He pointed out that larger trucks require larger stopping distances of about 20 additional feet, and that longer trailers make merging and passing “very difficult” for other drivers on the road.

The larger trucks permitted by the proposed federal bill would increase the turning radius for trucks even further – by an additional six feet, according to Schumer.

Multi-trailer trucks are also more deadly: A study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that multi-trailer trucks had an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single-trailer trucks.

Truck traffic on the North Fork has been a topic of heated debate recently. Just a few months ago, local residents successfully fought a regional proposal that called for diverting some 3,000 tractor-trailers per year from Connecticut highways to Long Island via the Orient Point ferry. That plan was eventually scrapped by the N.Y. Metropolitan Transportation Council.