July 20--The closure of U.S. 31 has brought an unexpected menace to the land of roundabouts -- 18-wheelers.
They tear up the pavement, tie up traffic and struggle -- sometimes comically -- to navigate Carmel's unique traffic grid.
But city leaders are no longer amused.
Within the next several weeks, police will start ticketing truck drivers who stray from state-designated detours under a new ordinance passed this month by the Carmel City Council. The measure bans trucks larger than 19,500 pounds from some local roads that have absorbed displaced traffic while U.S. 31 is closed.
Most are natural local detours off U.S. 31, such as Illinois and Old Meridian streets. But the ban also extends to Main Street, which runs through Carmel'sArts and Design District. Trucks making local deliveries will not be affected by the ordinance.
Council members, who approved the ordinance unanimously, said they've seen an influx of semitrailer trucks on local roads since the Indiana Department of Transportation shut down a stretch of U.S. 31 in April for eight months of construction.
"Drivers of large vehicles, mostly tractor-trailers ... are just not believing that sign up north of us that says 'no through traffic, divert to Keystone,' Councilman Rick Sharp said. "By the time they find out the sign is for real, they're stuck."
Mayor Jim Brainard, who supports the new ordinance, said one truck driver was caught trying to pull a U-turn on a small roundabout on Main Street.
Not surprisingly, the driver failed. The attempt was immortalized -- and mocked -- on social media.
"He almost made it," Brainard quipped.
Jokes aside, council members say they have more serious concerns. Sharp said he saw one truck run a red light about 7 seconds late. The council also is worried about heavy trucks tearing up the city's roads.
"This is not an ordinance searching for a problem to fix," Sharp said. "These are very real problems that we're having right now."
Gary Langston, president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, said he wasn't familiar with the specifics of Carmel's proposal, but he typically pushes for tolerance when cities consider banning large trucks from certain areas. Trucks, he said, are the only way companies have to get goods to consumers.
He suspects few truck drivers are mingling with local traffic on purpose.
"The last thing that a trucker wants to do is get caught in a congested area," Langston said. "Congestion costs billions of dollars a year to the trucking industry."
Given truckers' natural aversion to local roads, it remains unclear how much of an effect Carmel's new ordinance will have. Langston, for one, hasn't heard of much confusion among truckers about how to navigate the U.S. 31 detour, unlike a past closure of the I-65 and I-70 interchange.
Come Thanksgiving, Carmel will have a new challenge: retraining truck traffic to use U.S. 31. When the highway reopens, the designated detour, Keystone Avenue, will resume its own prohibition on large trucks.
Call Star reporter Brian Eason at (317) 444-6129. Follow him on Twitter: @brianeason.
Closed to truck traffic
Under a new city law, trucks larger than 19,500 pounds are banned from the following streets in Carmel:
--Old Meridian Street
--Guilford Road, from 116th Street to Old Meridian Street
--Main Street, from Illinois Street to Keystone Parkway
--136th Street, from Illinois Street to Rohrer Road
--Illinois Street, from 116th Street to 136th Street
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