MANHATTAN — The head of the Midwest Truckers Association has alleged in a letter to the state that Will County law enforcement are targeting unsuspecting truck drivers along a section of Manhattan-Monee Road near U.S. Route 45 and issuing tickets in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“County police have figured out if they just sit at that road, they can make some money,” said Matt Wells, MTA associate director.
Manhattan-Monee Road from U.S. Route 52 east to U.S. 45 serves as a “critical east-west” route for truckers, Wells said. It's a county road, but is maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
In an April 24 letter to IDOT, Wells alleges local police have made more than $2.5 million issuing tickets to truckers caught crossing an area culvert.
When asked Wednesday for revenue totals and the number of tickets issued in this area, Will County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer said the office required a Freedom of Information Act request. The Herald-News filed a FOIA request Wednesday afternoon.
The issue is rooted in what Wells believes to be “confusing signage," he said.
Truck drivers often use the road to access U.S. 45, but fewer than 1,500 feet west of U.S. 45 lies a culvert with a 15-ton weight limit. When trucks turn onto the road to gain access to U.S. 45, the first sign they see points out a 15-ton weight limit 5 miles ahead.
U.S. 45 also is about 5 miles east of U.S. 52. In the same line of sight is a sign that says the road is a truck route, Wells said.
“What's confusing the truckers is, 'Who in the world would [limit] a structure to 15 tons on a road that has a sign that says truck route?'” Wells said. “So everyone has logically assumed that the culvert 5 miles ahead is just past [U.S. 45] because the sign says it's a truck route and they can access U.S. 45 this way.”
Hoffmeyer said traffic sergeants often patrol the area for overweight violations due to safety concerns. IDOT is responsible for setting the weight limit on the culvert, not the sheriff's office, she said.
Local law enforcement believe the signs are "well-marked," Hoffmeyer said.
Wells said IDOT needs to erect signs clarifying there is no access to U.S. 45 from U.S. 52 for trucks more than 15 tons.
Martin Lohse, a truck driver from Sheridan, was ticketed and fined $22,870 last fall for driving over the culvert with a semitrailer weighing 90,500 pounds, court documents show. His attorney, Lawrence Necheles, said Lohse pleaded guilty, but Necheles is trying to negotiate a reduced fine.
"It may be the law, but the law has to be fair. It can't be this 'gotcha' situation," Necheles said. "The drainage ditch is obviously underneath the road. It's hidden. It's like the death penalty for stealing a pack of gum. This could literally put him out of business."
In an emailed statement, IDOT spokeswoman Carson Quinn said the state agency is “actively investigating signing improvements that could help alleviate this concern.”
“We are in the process of reviewing projects to be included in the upcoming multiyear construction program that would hopefully include a permanent repair at this location,” Quinn said.