Officials try something new to stop truckers at Smugglers’ Notch

May 8, 2024

Tyson Fisher


Signs, increased fines and plenty of awareness campaigns have not prevented numerous trucks from getting stuck on the infamous Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont every year. Frustrated over the problem, state officials are trying something else.

The scenic mountain pass along state Route 108 has been the cause of many headaches for state officials over the years. Although it offers a nice view of the Green Mountains, the narrow route also includes many sharp turns.

Due to the snake-like feature of the road, state law prohibits single vehicles greater than 40 feet in length and combination vehicles greater than 45 feet in length from operating on Smugglers’ Notch. Large trucks are guaranteed to get stuck.

Despite plenty of signage warning truckers not to enter Smugglers’ Notch, numerous tractor-trailers get stuck on the road every year. One trapped truck will shut down the highway for several hours as crews try to free the vehicle.

According to state officials, the problem appears to be with GPS navigation systems.

Specifically, truckers are using navigation systems that are not specific to trucking but, rather, are designed for passenger vehicles. Consequently, they are being routed through Smugglers’ Notch.

Officials have made numerous attempts to mitigate the problem. At one point, large digital signs were placed, in addition to existing road signs stating trucks are prohibited. And several years ago, a bill increasing fines from $162 to $1,000 was signed into law. That fine increases to $2,000 if a stuck truck causes major traffic delays. Just two months after the governor signed the bill, a trucker got jammed up on Smugglers’ Notch and fined the full $2,000.

Last year, state lawmakers attempted to address the issue by going after providers of GPS navigation systems. Three senators introduced a bill that would extend fines to GPS providers “that did not provide explicit notice of the prohibitions.” That bill died in committee.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation has dedicated an entire webpage to warning truckers about staying off Smugglers’ Notch. The agency’s message is pretty clear.

“What it comes down to is – you just won’t fit,” the Vermont Agency of Transportation states on its website. “No matter what your GPS or your navigation app says, over-length vehicles cannot successfully navigate the Notch. This is not a matter of driving skills or experience – there is no physical way for large vehicles to fit. If you try to go that way anyway, you will get stuck.”

New approach

With signs and fines doing very little to solve the problem, transportation officials are turning to a new plan: chicanes.

A chicane is a structure that makes a road narrower, oftentimes creating an S-curve that forces traffic to slow down. In the case of Smugglers’ Notch, the chicanes are designed to stop trucks and force them to turn around.

“We’ve completed various traffic engineering analyses and discussed the options with our partners, and there was a strong consensus that the chicanes are the best option,” Todd Sears, deputy director of the Operations and Safety Bureau, said in a statement.

At first, the chicanes will be temporary and consist of orange barrels and curbs. They will be installed on both ends of Smugglers’ Notch. Officials anticipate the chicanes will be fully installed and operational in mid-May.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation will study the effect of the chicanes for at least one to two years. If they’re proven effective, officials may decide to make them permanent, which would involve designing them to look attractive and to blend into the roadway and landscape. LL