PHILLIPSBURG — And we were doing so, so well!
Remember all the drama about the oversize wind turbine load fiascos that had been taking place in Phillips County? Well, to paraphrase Michael Corleone from the Godfather, “just when we think we’re out, they drag us back in again.”
First a quick recap — around a half decade ago wind turbine manufacturers ramped up production to meet market demand and a little extra, as major U.S. government subsidies were being doled out.
As those turbines were being built, they were being shipped down U.S. 183 and through Phillipsburg for stockpiling in central Kansas.
During the course of that transport, Phillipsburg turned into the Wild West as up to a dozen of the huge loads were being convoyed through town every day. And as they were coming through town, their pilot car drivers were steering directly into oncoming traffic, playing chicken to clear a path. They were also driving on sidewalks, running red lights, and taking rest stops in lanes of traffic. In addition, drivers were getting out of their vehicles and literally yanking street signs out of the ground to help them make tight turns.
Because of the resulting public uproar, a decision was made in Topeka to detour those oversize loads around Phillipsburg — and the only way to do that was to send them down K-383 through Long Island in rural northwest Phillips County and then on down through Almena in Norton County.
Out of sight, out of mind. Problem solved? Not on your life.
All the plan did was shift the problem from a highly-visible area, to one of less visibility. In effect, it was a hide-the-problem solution.
Pilot car drivers were still going amok, driving into oncoming lanes of traffic and running cars off the road. And to top it off, K-383 is extremely narrow and has no shoulders at all. Oncoming traffic was not only being sideswiped by the wide loads, but the semis carrying the loads were slipping off the highway and tipping over into steep ditches.
Finally a school bus was clipped last spring, followed in close succession by incidents where a farm truck was hit and a wind turbine trailer faded over to the side of the road and ended up dumping its massive load into a ditch.
With all three events happening in a 48-hour period, two things happened — 1) a 30-mile stretch of highway had to be closed down twice in one week, and 2) Topeka woke up and got involved again.
So the new solution was that instead of hiding the problem of oversize loads by shuttling them through lower population areas, there was no choice but to run them back through Phillipsburg.
For the first few months, they started coming back through town all went well.
We have all heard stories about knucklehead drivers blindly following GPS and ending up driving into lakes. But those stories always seemed like an urban myth — nobody would have that much lack of common sense that they would drive into a lake just because their GPS told them to take a turn and continue driving. Would they?
Based on recent events, maybe so.
Carry that thought process one step further. We can admit it — our mothers asked every single one of us at one time or another, “would you jump off a cliff just because everybody else was doing it?”
Well, it seems we have had a bizarre version of both those things going on in regard to the oversize loads passing through Phillipsburg this past week.
Either that, or the transporters are practicing as stunt drivers for Mad Max: Phillipsburg Thunderdome.
So here’s what’s been happening — wind turbine convoys are heading into town from the west, and are driving right past their well-marked U.S. 183 turn. Instead of giving proper instructions for travel up U.S. 183, the pilot cars’ GPS has been telling them to turn onto 3rd Street in the downtown Phillipsburg business district a block to the east of 183. Phillipsburg 3rd Street — quaint, historic, flower planter-lined and red brick-paved, with diagonal parking on both sides as well as parallel parking along its center.
With that parking configuration, whatever roadway that’s left for a lane of traffic is barely wide enough for an oversize pickup. Run a massively huge oversize wind turbine tower that is too wide for K-383 down that same street and…well, you get the picture. (Actually, you don’t have to just imagine it — -there’s a real picture).
One pilot car driver who made that fateful turn into oversize load hell with a full convoy puppydogging behind him reportedly tried to loop his entourage around the entire four corners of the Phillips County Courthouse Square in an effort to make his way back to sanity.
So chaos erupts, the cops show up, and people start trying to explain what in the holy heck they are doing with a load the size of a barn on a street originally built to accommodate a horse and buggy. And that explanation?
The GPS made me do it.
Have the drivers been questioning the little voice coming out of the GPS that is doing the same as telling them to drive into a lake? No? What about that little voice in the back of their heads that has to be screaming at them?
Four times last week pilot car drivers turned up quaint Phillipsburg 3rd Street when their GPS told them to.
And four times the huge over-size-over-weight-over-wide-over-length-wind-turbine-tower-loaded-semi truck did the equivalent of following that pilot car driver over the cliff by trailing behind him onto the narrow brick street.
These guys can barely make the legal turn onto U.S. 183 because the loads are so long and the turn is so tight. How they are making that even tighter highly-skilled but absolutely illegal turn onto 3rd Street is a bit of a mystery.
The Review contacted a pilot car driver we have consulted with previously, and sent them a picture of one of the incidents from last week.
That person’s response? Drivers gotta have a little common sense.
There actually might be a way to instill that common sense into them — through their wallets. Anyway, Phillips County Sheriff’s deputies are testing that theory.
Large load semi truck drivers taking the beautiful Downtown Phillipsburg scenic tour are now being cited for deviating from the route the Kansas Department of Transportation oversize load permit requires transporters to stick to. I would think impeding traffic, careless driving, and impersonating Burt Reynolds from Smokey and the Bandit tickets might also help do the trick. With citations in hand, maybe the drivers can take their GPS to court with them to have it testify and take the rap instead.
Absent that, at this rate some people are going to have to outfit their semis Mad Max 3rd Street-style just so they get their product through the P-burg business district.