Winter Garden officials agreed to spend two more weeks negotiating with Titan America and other stakeholders in hopes of coming to a compromise regarding the issue of truck traffic on Marsh Road.
City commissioners voted at their March 25 meeting to postpone until April 8 the second reading of an ordinance that would ban certain classifications of trucks on a portion of Marsh Road.
City Manager Mike Bollhoefer and District 4 Commissioner Colin Sharman updated city leaders and residents on the latest in the Marsh Road negotiations. Sharman said he and Bollhoefer met with affected residents March 22 but new details had transpired by the time of the City Commission meeting.
In February, the traffic consultants hired by the city reported about 1,400 trucks were using Marsh Road each day. When the city initially began discussing the ban and posting speed signs, the numbers began dropping to about 400 per day, Bollhoefer said. With the signs now gone, the speeding has decreased, but the truck traffic has increased.
“The speed was a big improvement,” Bollhoefer said. “The total number of trucks, though, has really gotten bad. We looked at our last days we had this compiled, and on March 10, we had 1,660 trucks going in there. March 11 was 1,593, which exceeds what it was when we first started having this problem. … What we’ve been wanting to see happen has not transpired. … The bad news is through all our negotiations, we’ve seen our numbers get worse.”
Bollhoefer and Sharman said they began receiving calls from residents telling them the early-morning traffic was terrible, so they initially decided to present a resolution to the commission. That resolution would have prohibited trucks in Class 6 and above from operating on Marsh Road before 7 a.m.
“When I sent out that information to all the interested parties … and told them we were doing this, I got a call from … the top guy at Titan who said … if we were to go with the hours of operation change, that would force them to play their last hand and go to a lawsuit.”
Bollhoefer said Titan America asked for two more weeks to work on improvements in truck traffic. He recommended forgoing the proposed resolution and granting them that time in favor of trying to avoid going to the courts. Should there be no improvements, the city still has the option to pass the ordinance at the next meeting.
“I know these residents are getting frustrated,” Bollhoefer said. “It’s tough on them and such, and in the same respect as we all know, once we choose the nuclear route and go to court, it’s no longer in our hands.”
Sharman added that while many of the residents who live along Marsh Road are frustrated, most are willing to go two more weeks to see what transpires.
“Mike and I had a discussion after coming to this recommendation of giving them two more weeks — which it’s hard for me to do, guys,” Sharman said. “I’m emotional about this like the residents, and Mike is strategic, and he’s the brain. I trust our brain, our city manager.”
In the meantime, the city will be hiring workers to operate decibel meters out on Marsh Road to measure noise levels and identify which companies have the loudest trucks, Bollhoefer said. The main focus is to decrease the number of trucks on the road.
“The numbers were still in the high 400s when the residents thought it was great — bliss,” Sharman said. “That would be the expectation that we need them to get to. Otherwise, we’ve got to move forward with a full-on ban.”
District 3 Commissioner Mark Maciel asked if reducing the number of trucks on the road is even a possibility. Bollhoefer said the trucking companies think they can do it.
“They claim they can manage it by rerouting, finding alternative routes, they’ve come up with all these different ways of doing it,” he said. “When all is said and done, it’s really incumbent upon them to find a way to get it done. … Once we go the route of where we put that ordinance (in place), we’ve lost that opportunity to negotiate. We’ve gone through this pain long enough — just give it two more weeks and see what we can get for improvement.”
“I think it’s better to sit down at the table and come up with a compromise that everyone can live with,” Mayor John Rees said. “I agree that we keep pushing two weeks, and sooner or later you’ve got to say you’ve pushed far enough. We’ve got to quit kicking the can down the road.”