Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Let's look at monster trucks and peace trains

Guest opinion by Jim Banholzer

An open letter to Mrs. Donna Pence, representative-elect for District 25 in the Idaho Legislature:

As one of the ones who voted for you in the recent election, I would like to offer congratulations on your recent victory. I'm sure you have a full plate now, but when you get somewhat caught up, I would like to ask you to look into some important transportation and safety matters that have been looming in our district for some time. I believe you could make a great difference in helping resolve some of these.

Your recent opponent, Tim Ridinger, may have a point when he says longer trucks distribute their weight more evenly onto more axles. However, this situation gets complicated when these behemoth trucks attempt to negotiate streets in the small towns of the Wood River Valley and many other locations throughout Idaho. A fully loaded truck is quite a spectacle bustling through the streets of Hailey. Imagine for a minute that you are a child 4 feet tall and under 100 lbs. When a 100-foot long truck weighing 100,000 lbs. breezes by you in a poorly lighted seven-lane crosswalk the truck has the weight advantage by 1,000 to 1! Not much of a match is it? Furthermore, these oversized trucks are too long to reasonably turn through intersections such as the one at Main Street and Bullion. Therefore, they're required to cut through the heart of the Old Hailey community. You must recall the terrible tragedy that took place five years ago when a little boy, Cody Boyd, had his life taken from him by just such a truck so long that the driver did not even know he was involved in an accident. I ask you, what can we do to keep such monster trucks out of communities with streets that were designed well before such colossal freighting giants ever existed?

I want to make you aware of a second issue. I often see trucks traveling down our roads with open-air tops and no safety tarps securing their loads. With debris piled several feet taller than their open-air tops, the drivers of these rigs are in denial if they think the rocks and scrap metal that fall out magically go up into outer space orbit, or somehow just disappear. No, this potentially lethal debris often lands smack in the middle of our short-daylight and soon to be icy state highways. Just ask any volunteer highway clean up crew what types of items they've discovered on the sides of the road and you'll find there's some scary stuff out there. With your help we can soon update the laws requiring quality safety tarps, rather than wait for an antiquated law to contribute to the maiming or death of a loved one. Although some trucking firms do tarp their loads and make every effort to maintain a shining safety record, it strikes me that something needs to be changed in the law to require all trucks to have secure loads. What's more, we need to enforce any such new laws. What are some steps you can suggest to me about this concern--a concern that could save somebody's life?

Lastly, what is the potential for the passenger railway station to ever reopen in Shoshone? With tourism ever increasing in Idaho, it seems that the dynamics of train travel is something that should be looked into every few years. Can you give me a glimmer of hope by letting me know that somebody at the state government level seriously looks at this potential and is encouraging businesses--besides nuclear waste--to use freight and passengers trains for travel in Idaho? Many people find trains to be more scenic and enjoyable than they do air travel. Potential visitors would be interested in great railway experiences by coming here and visiting this wonderful state if such a system were to be reintroduced to the tracks and station already in place. The next few summers will likely see tens of thousands of eager-to-spend-money tourists coming through Idaho just to retrace Lewis and Clark's steps! Some might even rumble into town rewinding their MP3 players to listen to Cat Steven's "Peace Train" over and over on such a trip. (As long as his music stays off of the Government's No-Play list.)

With Greyhound Bus cutting back on their services in Idaho and with the Hailey airport possibly moving to a location further away from Sun Valley than it is now, the railway could likely once again become a competitor for hoards of skiers and other passenger traffic. Mr. Ridinger thinks that the trucking industry should be given more leeway with the demise of the railway. But do we really need to give up on these majestic railway systems? Railways working in conjunction with the trucking industry can vastly improve the overall fuel efficiency once enough business is set back into motion. This would be a great place to start on our local level. Thank you for your time and consideration on these issues.

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