Truckers caught in annual city crackdown Drivers find shortcut costs them time, money

October 29, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Stanley Rokosz, hauling propane tanks from Waldorf to White Marsh and prohibited from using the Harbor or Fort McHenry tunnels, wanted a quick way to get by Baltimore without driving around the Beltway.

He got some advice and elaborate directions from another trucker over breakfast at a truck stop in Jessup -- exit at Interstate 95 by Oriole Park at Camden Yards and cut through the city.

The tip earned him a $70 ticket yesterday from Officer David Wallace -- part of an annual crackdown on truckers illegally using city streets as shortcuts to avoid highway backups, tolls and increased chances of getting inspected.

"You were in a restricted truck zone," Wallace told Rokosz, who claimed he didn't see signs warning that trucks were not allowed on certain streets. "From this point forward, you've got to go up I-95."

Police pulled over 40 trucks yesterday in Little Italy, Fells Point, Highlandtown and Canton as part of a three-day initiative dubbed "Operation Shake, Rattle and Roll," named in honor of Southeast Baltimore residents who complain the 80,000-pound rigs shake their homes when they rumble by.

City and Baltimore County police, with Maryland state troopers and safety inspectors from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Maryland Department of the Environment, participated in the operation.

Not only did they give tickets, but they thoroughly checked each rig, from lights to axles to brakes. Nearly half of the trucks did not pass inspection and were ordered off the road. They were escorted to a side street where they had to be repaired or towed.

"The community is complaining about the large number of trucks that rush by," said Officer Mark Armour, head of the Southeastern District's traffic enforcement unit. "The truckers are trying to avoid the turnpike or the tunnels because of the tolls or the increased likelihood they will get inspected."

The officers targeted an area from President Street to Highland Avenue and from Eastern Avenue to Boston Street, where vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds are prohibited unless they are making a delivery in the zone.

Police said truck drivers routinely get off Interstate 83 at President Street or get off at Interstate 395 and cut through downtown, and then use streets in Southeast Baltimore to make their way back to the highway.

Police pulled over a wide variety of trucks in the restricted zone and escorted them to a waterfront lot in the 2800 block of Boston St., including tanker trucks hauling gasoline and dump trucks working at nearby construction sites.

Of the 40 trucks inspected, 19 were banned from further travel. One truck driver got a $1,020 citation and had his rig impounded because "it was so unsafe that it was about to cause an accident," Armour said.

Officers also issued 29 citations for driving in the restricted zone and noted 176 safety violations, including several on five trucks hauling hazardous chemicals.

Fred Jackson, working on a group of townhouses under construction on Boston Street, got caught up in the sting and had his company's dump truck impounded by police after they found faulty brakes, among other problems.

"Quite a few things weren't working," said Jackson, who didn't seem to mind the delay in his work schedule. "You've got to check up on all these trucks."

Norman Farley of Arbutus was pulled over while driving to his terminal on Highland Avenue. He didn't get a ticket because he was headed to a specific location in the restricted zone.

The only problem was a brake that was slightly out of adjustment on one wheel -- which amounted to a warning from Lee Zimmerman, a safety inspector for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Asked about the stop, which took a half-hour, Farley sat in his rig as inspectors peered under his hood and slowly shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "There is a good reason for it."

Even though he wasn't in violation of driving through the restricted zone, he didn't know his truck wasn't allowed on those streets.

"I thought it always used to be a truck route," he said. "It's tough to keep track of where you can go and where you can't. But this is good. It keeps you from having bad trucks and bad equipment."

But Rokosz wasn't so happy. His truck was in fine working order, but the Johnstown, Pa., resident still got a ticket, accused of using city streets as a shortcut. He complained that the truck restrictions were poorly marked.

"If you see a sign," he said to Wallace, the officer who stopped him, "I won't even argue. But I didn't see a sign." He then pleaded for a break, saying he didn't have time to fight the ticket in court. "Can't you give a warning?" he asked.

"Not down here," Wallace answered.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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