Left turn limit? Top cop says no one likes Illinois town's predicament

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 11/26/2014

Watching police pull over three tractor-trailers as they exited an Illinois truck stop didn’t sit right with OOIDA Life Member Bob Esler.

Esler has stopped for years at the Pilot for sandwiches and coffee on his way between work and home in Taylor, Mich. Esler wasn’t happy when he saw three trucks get pulled over for leaving the Channahon, Ill., Pilot truck stop by turning left onto U.S. Highway 6 on Tuesday, Nov. 25.

Such turns are banned between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Even worse, cars leaving the Pilot exit situated closer to the interchange are allowed to turn left onto Highway 6. The west exit is too small to accommodate commercial trucks, which are advised to turn right onto Highway 6 from the truck stop’s east exit and travel about two miles in order to get back to I-55.

While the ban on turns doesn’t expressly prevent trucks only from turning left – the rule combined with the truck stop’s physical limitations do.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Esler said. “It’s simply a two-lane road to turn left onto. If there were four lanes of traffic, I might be able to understand it a little bit better from a safety standpoint. But it’s only a two-lane road.”

As it turns out, the road won’t always be two lanes. And trucks won’t always be prevented from turning left to get back onto Highway 6.

According to Channahon Police Department, a little more than two years ago the Illinois Department of Transportation began limiting all vehicles turning left from the Pilot’s east exit driveway. From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., those vehicles were asked to turn right onto Highway 6. 

“That was the state; it wasn’t a city change,” Channahon Police Chief Jeff Wold said.

The arrangement is a temporary solution until the state of Illinois completes an expansion of the I-55 and Highway 6 interchange. The enhancement as planned will widen the highway to four lanes in front of the truck stop and add a traffic signal that will allow all vehicles to turn left and re-enter I-55.

Wold said he is looking forward to the improvements. “I can’t wait until the Illinois Department of Transportation initiates the improvements to the I-55 and Highway 6 interchange and makes it more convenient for all motorists to use the I-55 interchange,” Wold said.

Wold said the state had reasoned that the truck stop’s east exit, nearest the truck stop’s diesel pumps, was located too close to the I-55 interchange to safely allow trucks to turn left during daytime.

Esler said the area around Channahon’s Pilot is fairly industrial and has no schools or other safety concerns he’s aware of.

Wold reiterated the traffic arrangement as the state’s responsibility, while enforcing laws is up to the police department.

“That’s the way tickets are,” he said.

As it is nationally, traffic is highest during daytime hours, Wold said. The temporary signs went up about six months after Pilot purchased the truck stop a few years ago. 

Wold said the ban on left-hand turns from the truck stop’s east exit was designed to be temporary until the state could complete its three-phase expansion of the interchange and the roads surrounding I-55 and Highway 6.

After the signs first went up, Channahon police wrote a wave of tickets to drivers who disregarded the ban on left-hand turns during the day.

“When it first started, there was a very high level of noncompliance,” Wold said. “We seemed to write more tickets when it first started.”

One sign near the exit has nine metallic reflectors, and another is posted across the street from the truck stop. At the Pilot, signs are posted on diesel pumps and on the truck stop’s door. The city even tried to work with the truck stop and post maps inside Pilot “but it didn’t seem like the drivers would ever see the maps,” Wold said.

Wold said he didn’t remember a truck causing a crash by turning left while exiting the truck stop.

“We get about 30 crashes a year over at the Pilot,” Wold said. 

A letter from the Illinois Department of Transportation to Channahon Mayor Joe Cook says the project will move access roads farther from the interstate and add a traffic signal.

The project is slated to begin next spring.

“I don’t know what the delay is, but they’re not starting until next spring,” Wold told Land Line.

Esler may not be driving his truck through Illinois long enough to notice the highway improvement.

Reached Tuesday, Esler said he plans to largely retire from trucking by New Year’s Eve “unless the Lord changes my mind.”

He’s been over the road since 1968.

“With all these rules and regulations and these things, I’m done,” Esler said. “I’ve decided I’m not gonna make another million dollars out here.”

After seeing trucks pulled over for left-hand turns for the last two years, Esler said he was glad he spoke up about the Illinois town’s practice. The expense of citations and the intersection’s strange system stuck in his craw as Esler watched a company driver’s orange truck on the side of the road, police lights flashing.

“It’s been that way for a while, but here’s a guy out there trying to make a living and they’re trying to get him on something that’s just plain stupid in my opinion,” Esler said.

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