Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | 6:30 p.m.
Hoover Dam bypass bridge
- Freeway to Phoenix gains traction with bridge work (7-11-2009)
- New bridge may require more emergency services (5-22-2009)
- NDOT’s cost warning bypassed (5-19-2009)
- Bypass proponents charting a new course (5-4-2009)
- Hardy steadfast in fight for Boulder City Bypass tolls (4-28-2009)
- Commitment to bypass seems to be on back burner (4-8-2009)
Count Gene Breeden’s truck-driving school in Boulder City among the many things that changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001.
Breeden taught would-be truckers how to drive treacherous mountain roads on U.S. 93 across Hoover Dam, with its steep grades and switchbacks. If they could drive that, they could handle anything, he found.
Within hours of the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in New York and left a hole in the side of the Pentagon in Washington, Hoover Dam closed. When it reopened, no heavy trucks were allowed across.
Now with the Hoover Dam bypass bridge just over a year from allowing big rigs to flow through Boulder City again, Breeden has changed the focus of his school from cross-country trucking to more local trips.
When he teaches mountain driving, he goes down to Nelson, where there are some steep grades and tricky turns, but he rarely teaches it anymore. He discourages students from the long-haul career path, he said.
“Yes, you can make a lot of money, but it costs a lot to be out there,” he said.
Several factors have combined to change life on the road for the worse, he said. Crime and budget cutbacks have prompted several states to close rest stops. The high cost of diesel fuel caused many truck stops to close, Breeden said.
So that means truckers either pay for a hotel room for the night or stop on the side of the road.
“Nowadays, it’s very unsanitary and very unsafe to be a big truck driver in the U.S.,” he said. “The ones that run all over the country, it’s a terrible, terrible life.”
Breeden, a Boulder City resident since 1968, is a longtime educator who was a dean at Chaparral High School before setting up drug and alcohol programs for the state.
When that ended, he combined heavy equipment experience he received growing up on a farm and driving a truck during college with his teaching experience to start A-1 Truck Driver Training. He oversees five instructors.
Currently, he takes only drivers who already have the basic skills — a commercial driving permit, the ability to tow a trailer and back it through an S-pattern, and the ability to drive with a clutch. The one-on-one training can have those drivers on the road in a matter of days, he said.
He’s tough with his students, and that is an approach he recommends to the Boulder City Police Department once the Hoover Dam bypass bridge opens and allows heavy truck traffic back through Boulder City. The Department of Transportation estimates 2,000 trucks a day will come through town, project engineer Glenn Petrenko said.
“I want the Boulder City Police Department to crack down heavy on trucks that come through Boulder City,” Breeden said. “There’s no excuse for a professional driver being anything other than professional.”
That begins with safety inspections and goes through following the speed limit, he said.
“As a city, you want to start out with tough enforcement,” he said. “Tough but fair.”
What that means, Breeden said, is to have signs posted coming into both ends of town that warn truckers that laws will be strictly enforced in Boulder City and that prohibit use of noisy engine retarders.
Then, he said, Boulder City police officers must be trained to the highest levels, so that they are confident of the law and safety standards when writing a ticket to a trucker.
“If Boulder City starts out tough, word will get out and the bad trucks will go through Laughlin,” he said.
“If the Boulder City Police Department gets trained properly and gets the right signage up, we will control the trucks. If we let the trucks control us, we’ll be in trouble.”