There is an established truck route that leads from Route 65 in Freedom to Cranberry Township, but that hasn’t stopped drivers of tractor-trailer trucks and other commercial vehicles from taking a shorter route over a weight-restricted portion of Freedom Crider Road.
“Oftentimes trucks will use that route illegally,” said Dan Cessna, district executive for PennDOT’s District 11. “It’s certainly a shortcut from Cranberry Township to Route 65.”
Freedom Crider Road has a 10-ton weight limit between its intersection with Route 989 in New Sewickley Township and Route 65 in Freedom. It isn’t conducive to safe truck travel because the highway is narrow, winding and steep, particularly where the road turns into a sharp slope on Ninth Street in Freedom, Cessna said.
In an attempt to curb truckers from driving on the weight-restricted portion of the state road, PennDOT has erected 6-foot tall “Traffic Alert” guidance signs at five locations along Freedom Road. The signs remind commercial operators to turn onto an alternate truck route instead of continuing on Freedom Crider Road.
PennDOT held a news conference Wednesday with officers from several police departments, including Cranberry, to introduce the signs to the public.
“We have implemented this new truck route to stop large trucks from using Freedom Crider Road into Freedom Borough,” Cessna said. “Operators who continue to use this roadway jeopardize not only their own safety but the safety of every motorist they encounter.”
Cessna said there has been a significant increase in the number of commercial trucks using Freedom Crider Road to get to and from Cranberry in the last several years.
Chief Eugene St. Clair of the Freedom Police Department said his officers have issued 36 citations since September for overweight trucks using the weight-restricted section of the road.
In the last five years, there have been eight reportable heavy-truck crashes on Freedom Crider Road, including an accident in September that seriously injured a driver.
St. Clair said a tri-axle truck struck a barrier at the end of the highway where it turns into Ninth Street, causing a container of hot asphalt the truck was carrying to spill onto the car traveling behind it. The driver of that car suffered severe burns, according to the chief.
“Our victim is still recovering,” he said.
New Sewickley Chief Ron Leindecker added that large trucks often travel into the oncoming lane of traffic on the narrow, winding sections of Freedom Crider Road.
“It has just been an ongoing issues,” he said. “Hopefully these signs will correct some of our problems.”
Cessna said most truckers were unaware of the road’s weight restrictions because they are using noncommercial GPS devices instead of more expensive commercial GPS units, which guide drivers to truck routes only.
“Most times, honestly, it’s an act of innocence because a lot of commercial truck drivers are from outside the area,” Cessna said. “Rather than a commercial GPS device they are using one that regular citizens would use for their cars and it’s inadvertently directing them across the weight-limited roadway.”
Cessna said improvements to the weight-restricted corridor of Freedom Crider Road have been in the planning stages at PennDOT for the last 20 years but have not come to fruition because of funding issues.
"We’ve certainly never been able to advance that project to construction,” Cessna said.
At a meeting in November with local elected officials and police departments, PennDOT agreed to install the oversize signs to remind truckers to use the truck route as a short-term safety solution. PennDOT’s goal is to upgrade the corridor, Cessna said.
Work was completed on the signs in late February.
Lt. Kevin Meyer of the Cranberry Police Department said township officers also would do their part to ensure overweight trucks do not travel on Freedom Crider Road between Route 989 and Route 65.
“We continue to support our neighbors in Beaver County,” he said. “We have an aggressive truck enforcement team in Cranberry Township that goes out regularly enforcing the motor vehicle carrier safety laws. We’ll do our part as they’re coming down the corridor to support this effort with the truck drivers.”