September 5, 2011 3:00 AM, EDT

Hurricane Irene Interrupts Truckers Traveling Throughout Northeast U.S.

By Michele Fuetsch and Greg Johnson, Staff Reporters

This story appears in the Sept. 5 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Truckers in the Northeast, particularly Vermont, were dealing last week with washed-out roads and collapsed bridges in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Flooding in New Jersey took out an interstate highway bridge on a key truck route.

The storm dealt a serious blow to Vermont, causing damage to 260 roads and scores of bridges, news reports said. Late last week, the state had 63 roads closed, and there were concerns about 30 bridges, said Sue Minter, deputy secretary of transportation for the state.

“We’ve got roads that are missing 150 feet in both directions,” said Roland Bellavance, president of Bellavance Trucking in Barre, Vt.

“Even though they’ve opened up some more roads, these are not truck routes,” Bellavance said, “but they are right now.” He said truckers operating in Vermont probably will be hampered for a few weeks.

“Interstate 89 did not shut down, but the advice that we would give to anybody coming here is a lot of the state roads and the local roads have been damaged or down to one lane or are in great need of repair,” said Robert Sculley, executive director of the Vermont Truck and Bus Association and also president of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association.

“So anybody coming to make a delivery in Vermont and some parts of New Hampshire really needs to call a local road agent or [the receiver] because they may have to make alternative plans to get the products [there]. A lot of these local communities have been hit pretty hard.”

Irene also caused massive flood damage in northern New Jersey, where a section of northbound Interstate 287 collapsed north of the intersection of Interstate 80. The collapse occurred in Boonton, N.J., where I-287 crosses the Rockaway River just south of Exit 44, according to news reports. That portion of I-287, an important truck route that is toll-free, runs from the I-80 intersection north to the New York State Thruway.

Trucks took alternate routes, but there’s no timetable when I-287 will be fully restored, said Tom Roy, director of transportation at Wakefern Food Corp., a Keasbey, N.J., cooperative that supplies groceries to Shop Rite supermarkets.

In Maine, Route 27, a major traffic artery through the state’s northern forest area, is underwater, and access roads and bridges in the area have been washed out, stranding about 100 people in Sugarloaf.

“We know a lot of the forest product trucks travel that road,” said Brian Parke, president of the Maine Motor Transport Association.

Route 27 intersects Interstate 95, carrying traffic all the way from the Maine coast at Booth Bay Harbor to the Maine border town of Coburn Gore before crossing over the Canadian border into Quebec. “There’s a lot of truck traffic that goes through Coburn Gore,” Parke said.

New England Motor Freight Inc. prepositioned freight and equipment before Irene hit, but its preparations meant little because shippers struggled in the storm’s aftermath.

“The big problem is, we’re ready to deliver freight, but customers are not ready to take it,” said NEMF Chief Executive Officer Tom Connery. “Many towns have localized flooding, and there are still a lot of businesses without power.” NEMF had five terminals that ran on back-up generator power after the storm.

The storm didn’t just tear up roads; it also played havoc with railroads. On its website, Norfolk Southern said repair work on washouts continued around Binghamton, N.Y., affecting shipments into areas of New England.

For days, CSX Transportation halted all intermodal trains out of Boston; Kearny, Little Ferry, and North Bergen, N.J.; Philadelphia and Springfield, Mass., even though those terminals were open.

UPS Freight also kept its terminals open but was prepared for every eventuality, said spokesman Ira Rosenfeld. “This included having emergency generators for the power outages we knew were coming,” he said. “The problems are [that] our customers are not prepared to receive the freight, so we’re calling every consignee to make sure they can accept it.”

Another concern was whether affected states and municipalities have the money to repair the damage.

Small towns in Vermont and some in New Hampshire have been hit so hard they will have to rebuild their infrastructure, Sculley said. However, the two states have no money to spend on rebuilding.

“They have roads that are destroyed, they have bridges that are damaged and it’s going to affect the transportation on them, particularly of commercial motor vehicles,” Sculley said.