Semi traffic increases danger on Berman Road; bus driver says trucks illegally pass stopped school buses while children are crossing the road

OKEECHOBEE — Berman Road residents appeared before the Okeechobee County commissioners at their Feb. 6 meeting to ask for help from the dangers posed by the semi truck traffic that speeds up and down their rural residential road.

Steve McKinley said after he retired he noticed that daytime traffic on Berman Road is terrible. He said there have been a total of seven accidents in which vehicles wound up on his property. One of those was a fatality.

He said he is tired of picking up recap tires and trash on the county right of way in front of his home. He added that he tried to keep that area mowed, but due to all of the trash he finally gave up.

“I have always wondered why the jail inmates don’t police the road,” Mr. McKinley said.

“I understand the people who are hauling this trash from down south are trying to make two loads a day,” he continued. But the speeding trucks are endangering the people who live on that road, he added.

He said he is especially concerned when he hears the screeching of tires during the times the school buses are running.

School bus driver Melissa Peaden, one of two drivers with routes that include Berman Road, said they had to completely change the school bus routes due to the dangers posed by the speeding semis.

“The semis do not abide by the law,” she said. “They go around us when the kids are crossing the road. They pass us when they are not supposed to.”

She said the drivers are aware that it takes a semi a long time to stop and they start signaling with that in mind.

“If they are coming toward the dump, we know they weigh at least 80,000 pounds. We give them plenty of warning so they can stop,” Ms. Peaden said.

“Yesterday, I was making my stop,” she continued. “Semi number 1 was coming around.

He did not stop, and this is in the dark as this is 6:30 in the morning. I had my interior lights on and I threw my arms up to say, ‘What do you think you are doing?’

“He ended up stopping beside my bus,” she finished. However, “semi number two almost rear-ended that semi and ended up in the ditch,” she said.

“It took more than an hour to get his truck out,” she added.

In addition, she saw a third semi approaching the area, and it was not slowing down.

“I see a semi behind me that is not slowing down,” she said. “I had to punch it.”

The sudden bus acceleration to avoid being rear-ended by the oncoming semi threw students back in their seat, she explained.

“We don’t have cops out there,” she said. “The edge of the road is anywhere from 6 inches to a straight drop-off. That is why they end up wrecking,” Ms. Peaden said.

“It is getting ridiculous. We need it patrolled, or widen the road.”

Polly Walker said the semis do not even slow down when passing children at the bus stops. She said her family members were so concerned about the danger at the school bus stops, they started homeschooling.

‘The semis are coming extremely fast, without a care in the world,” she said. “The wrecks are becoming awful.”

“Since Berman is designated as an agricultural residential road, is there any way we can make it local traffic only until there is money to improve Berman Road?” asked another Berman Road resident.

“In order for that to work, we need increased patrol, especially during the high-traffic hours from 3:30 in the morning to 8:30 in the morning,” she said. “You should hear that traffic. You hear buses stopping, hear the screeching of the buses.”

She also suggested that the county re-evaluate the signage and striping. “Maybe some double striping, because there are so many houses as well as streets, maybe some more school bus stop signs, maybe some flashing lights,” Ms. Walker said.

“I still remember one morning I had gotten out of my dad’s truck and I was waiting for the bus and a semi came by and almost hit me,” said Katie Walker.

Later in the meeting, County Administrator Robbie Chartier said that due to increased truck traffic hauling hurricane debris from areas south of Okeechobee County, the landfill will start opening at 3 a.m. instead of 3:30 a.m.

“The only way to slow these trucks down is to have law enforcement out there,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs.

Commissioner David Hazellief suggested they add 2 miles of double yellow lines through the residential area. He said this would also help law enforcement.

“It all boils down to enforcement,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.

She said more double lines and signage would help, but enforcement of the traffic laws is critical to the public safety on that roadway.

“I noticed on Martin Grade they have signs that explain exactly how much a ticket is going to cost you. Maybe we could post some of those.”

She said the school buses stop on the road. There is nowhere else for them to stop on Berman Road.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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