Truckers, beware! Vermont is warning drivers to avoid state Route 108 through Smugglers’ Notch or risk damaging their vehicles and facing fines of up to $4,000. Even the most sophisticated GPS systems will sometimes send truckers on this treacherous road, and if this happens to you, you should find another route. Drivers who attempt to cross through this area don’t often reach their destination but do often receive a hefty fine.
VT 108 is an iconic north-south route winding through Vermont. Starting in Stowe Village, the road eventually leads to a well-known mountain resort popular for skiing and continues right up to the Canadian border. With 8,000 vehicles travelling along it daily, this scenic highway provides residents with easy access throughout their state, but this is not the case for big trucks.
“It’s a road of staggering beauty, but Route 108 zigzags through, up and over the peak, and it has rock outcroppings on either side. The angle of the road is such as that tractor-trailers can’t make it through. They get stuck,” said Todd Sears, deputy bureau chief of operations and safety at Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Despite plentiful signs warning of hefty fines, with vegetation trimmed to ensure visibility, and some that say, “Please do not trust your GPS,” Sears said truckers still “make the decision to try to navigate the Notch.”
VTrans has been tracking the problem since 2009, counting the number of trucks that get stuck (an average of five per year, but some years have had as many as 12), and honing in sign placement to perfect readability in the area.
State legislation has been revised by officials specifically for the troublesome section to prohibit vehicles more than 40 feet long or combination vehicles (with trailers) longer than 45 feet from operation in the Smuggler’s Notch segment of Route 108. Fines for violations start at $1,000 and can increase to over $4,000 for a second offense.
These fines can be coupled with fines for not obeying traffic signs and can total $4,500, Sears said, adding that the operating licenses that see the most violators are from Florida, Massachusetts, and Canada.
“It looks like a shortcut and looks like a bit of a shorter route by going over and through the Notch compared to staying on the main road VT 100 to VT 15, but tractor-trailers get stuck. We don’t want them to do that,” Sears said.
He blames GPS systems on cell phones for getting truckers caught on the curvy road in an attempt to save approximately seven minutes by going over the mountain.
“GPS is a big issue. There are some navigation services specifically designed for truckers to use in route planning. We have had good success in influencing those navigation systems specifically designed for freight haulers to black out the Notch and not even make it an option in route planning, but only when using that software package,” Sears explained. “The problem is, most drivers don’t use those. They just use their phone, which is Apple maps or Google maps, and those service a huge number of people who have nothing to do with trucks. So it is much more difficult to influence those companies so we are continuing to work on that.”
Truckers are evenly split in getting stuck in both directions trying to drive over Smuggler’s Notch. Most get caught in the rocks, but some “will go over the edge of the road so they are tipped on wheels,” he added.
“Do not take 108 to go up and through to go to the other side. What I want to be clear is that truckers can get up to resort areas and hotels to deliver their goods. Then, they need to turn around and come back. That’s fine and no problem. It’s the Notch specifically, we’re only talking about a half-mile-long stretch going up and over Mount Mansfield,” Sears said.
When an accident on the two-lane road has traffic backed up, it not only causes delays for commuters but can cost the economy in lost opportunity. According to VTrans data, extricating a tractor trailer that is blocking the way takes around three hours and costs $6,000 per hour in lost economic opportunities.
In an effort to reduce traffic backups, VTrans officials are exploring permanent infrastructure countermeasures such as roundabout configurations and chicanes to mimic angles to divert vehicles unable to pass those from traveling farther up the road and getting stuck.
Last summer, law enforcement patrolled both sides of the Notch to educate truckers on the preferred path being VT 100 to VT 15 (or VT 15 to VT 100 if traveling in the other direction) rather than issue citations, Sears said. “We want to increase awareness to the trucking community.”