Trucks waited to load at Watkins’ warehouse on West Third Street this week. The city of Winona is cracking down on trucks parking in the street’s no-parking zone because it partially blocks traffic.
by CHRIS ROGERS
After months of complaints, the city of Winona is trying to crack down on tractor-trailers parking in a no-parking zone on West Third Street. Following an uptick of truck traffic this winter, semitrailers have been lining up on the street — and partially blocking the road — while waiting their turn to pull into the loading docks at Watkins’ 730 West Third Street warehouse. City leaders plan to create a new, more stringent type of no-parking zone: a “public safety no-parking zone” where violators would face a $300 fine instead of $10.
Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi explained the issue started this winter, when Lawrence Transportation Company — one of the major shippers of flour from Bay State Milling’s Winona plant — ended its lease on a food-grade warehouse at 400 West Third Street. That required Bay State Milling to start using the only other available food-grade warehouse in Winona — Watkins’ 730 West Third Street facility — and required Lawrence Transportation and other haulers to start picking up and dropping off deliveries there, according to Sarvi.
The problem is that there are fewer loading docks at the Watkins facility, less room for staging trucks, and more traffic on a narrower street. All of that adds up to more traffic problems at the new warehouse. “That building, that surrounding does not have [the area] to do the volume of shipping they’re doing out of there,” City Council member George Borzyskowski said.
West Third Street is a no-parking zone on both sides of the street by the Watkins warehouse. According to Winona City Engineer Brian DeFrang, the street is 30-feet wide there. If a semitrailer is parked on one side, the open roadway drops down to 20 feet in width, DeFrang reported. Although two cars may be able to squeeze through, there are other heavy trucks that need to get through — from city dump trucks to tractor-trailers running to neighboring businesses, not to mention emergency vehicles. DeFrang noted that 20 feet in total road width is smaller than the minimum 11-foot width required for each lane. “Since lanes are typically 12-feet wide (11-feet wide minimum) when there is nonresidential-type traffic, 10-foot lanes would be considered dangerous for this type of traffic,” he wrote in a memo to the City Council. “You can get a car through there, but the reason for the ordinance is for safety equipment, fire trucks, and what not,” Sarvi said in an interview.
For months, many city staff and council members have gotten complaints from neighboring citizens and businesses. A train hitting a tractor-trailer at the site knocked out power to most of western Winona during one of the coldest days of last winter, and the neighbors have taken their own steps to discourage trucks. One business put up “no semis” signs in its parking lot while the railroad installed barriers around to keep trucks from damaging its tracks.
Neighboring residents have also complained of many tractor-trailers driving on non-truck-route streets, including quiet streets where children on bicycles are more often the sight than big trucks. “I had one very upset mother,” City Council member Paul Schollmeier said, describing one complaint he received. He asked Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack, “Are we watching [truck drivers] go through the neighborhood at all and ticketing them, as well?”
“We have tried to get down there as often as we can, which is pretty hit and miss,” the police chief answered.
City officials expect that these problems will largely cease once Bay State Milling completes the construction of its planned new warehouse downtown, but Bay State Milling officials said this week that construction could take a year.
In the meantime, Sarvi reported that Lawrence Transportation developed a solution for its drivers by securing access to a vacant lot on West Second Street where the trucks can line up and wait for a call to come to the warehouse and unload. That was a partial fix, Sarvi stated.
“The problem is there’s Lawrence trucks that are picking this stuff up, but there’s also other companies, other drivers that bid on picking up this flour,” Sarvi explained. Trucking companies from across the country come to the Winona warehouse, and those out-of-town drivers are not familiar with Winona or this issue. “Lawrence can control their own truck drivers but these other drivers … those are the ones that are just not getting with the program. They don’t understand that there’s a place to park. They don’t care,” Sarvi said.
Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack said that while his officers have been writing parking tickets against offending tractor-trailers, the drivers haven’t been deterred by the $10 fines. “It’ll definitely get the officers another tool,” he said of the proposed higher fines. “We’re not expecting it to stop the problem.”
“It’s one step that will hopefully solve part of the problem. It’s not going to solve it all,” Sarvi stated. “We’re going to continue to evaluate other things we can do, other actions we can take that will try to get compliance.” Sarvi said those actions might include things that would threaten offending drivers’ commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). At the council meeting, he described that as a “nuclear option” to get drivers’ attention. In an interview, he declined to explain what those actions would be.
Sarvi said that there are fewer tools to crack down on trucks leaving designated truck routes. Trucks are allowed to leave truck routes to make deliveries, he noted. Bostrack said that many of the drivers his officers talk to are not familiar with Winona and its color-coded street signs — truck routes are marked with yellow signs — and that many of them are using semi-trailer-specific GPS apps that incorrectly show the streets as being truck routes. Most are very responsive to being asked to get back on truck routes, they were just misinformed, Bostrack stated. Sarvi said the city has not tried contacting the makers of those GPS apps.
“We’re going to beef up whatever we think is going to make a difference,” Sarvi said of the city’s plans to address the problems. However, he added, “The other thing is that while we take it seriously and we want to address the issue, we don’t want to create a problem thats going to go beyond this one.” The proposed new $300 fines must be established through ordinance — which means the City Council must jump through some hoops if it wants to repeal the fine in the future. “Changing the fine — that’s going to affect someone who is trying to park their car there. So there may be some unintended consequences to trying to address this situation that will likely be resolved once Bay State builds it warehouse. So we’re trying to react proportionately.”
City Council member Al Thurley endorsed the proposed new fines, and his colleagues appeared generally supportive with the exception of council member Michelle Alexander.
“If we do this here, it’s going to come up for everywhere,” Alexander said of the proposed stringent no-parking zone. “I could see us getting inundated with requests,” she added. Alexander highlighted the fact that many other loading docks in Winona require truck drivers to block the roadway while they back up to the dock. City staff explained that parked trucks blocking the narrow roadway for an extended period of time — not trucks temporarily blocking traffic while backing up — was the basis for the proposed public safety no-parking zone on West Third Street.
The City Council is slated to vote on the proposed new fines on July 15.