Interstates have become playgrounds for tractor-trailers

Ian Valles, Staff Writer

Recently I was traveling on a well known interstate highway in Pennsylvania, and I noticed something somewhat disturbing:  the stark amount of tractor-trailers, which were nearly exclusively hauling private, well-known corporations’ goods and cargo. I have always passively noticed the amount of tractor-trailers on the highway when I travel, but this time, it almost felt like an awakening.

Why are there so many tractor-trailers on the road? What happened to the times when American cargo was shipped on the vast railroads that dotted and stretched across the United States?

Why can I no longer travel down a length of highway without being boxed in by long, cold trailers, often being driven by long overworked drivers?

What are the potential dangers of having this many tractor-trailers on the roads?

I have found that around the same time major railroads went bankrupt during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the rate of tractor-trailers being used as cargo haulers all but exploded. This is despite the fact that modern diesel trains can haul more freight and cargo, while using considerably less fuel and taking up virtually no space on the highways.

The vast lines of railroad track? Gone.

Since the 1960’s, track has slowly been eroding, being ripped up, or being paved over for natural expedition trails.

In Wilkes-Barre alone, you can see serious changes. The city once had a bustling rail yard, but in less than 60 years, we have dissolved into a single track, which infrequently operates, carrying scrap metal from destination to destination.

These days, you’ll see tractor-trailers, fresh off the highway, clogging up small streets, trying to make their deliveries to businesses that now sit on the lot of the former rail yard.

There are so many problems with tractor-trailers on the road. One serious problem is the safety risk they pose, especially during the inclement weather Pennsylvania experiences during this time of the year.

I know I have heard a fair share of horror stories including out of control vehicles, cargo spills and gruesome crashes that involve tractor trailers, on top of that, you hear of a scary number of drivers falling asleep at the wheel while hauling their cargo.

These safety issues are current and near term, but another, possibly worse outcome of tractor-trailers overtaking our roads, is the amount of pollution being emitted into our atmosphere.

As the amount of trailers has increased, there has been little progress on fuel efficiency and carbon emissions, and tons of pollution has been — and is continuously being — dumped into our planet. The damage is serious and could lead to irreversible side effects on our lives.

We have a serious problem on our hands, but seemingly no way to combat it.

Have we lost this fight, and are we trapped in its consequences, forever having to deal with roadways and interstates clogged with clunky, somewhat unsafe, and inefficient cargo haulers?

Are we doomed to a sea of metal boxes surrounding us as far as the eye can see?