Full-size semi-tractor trailers squeezing down Brookfield’s narrow residential side streets are, fortunately, uncommon sights in most parts of the village, but the same can’t be said for the 3800 block of Madison Avenue.
“It’s a chronic problem. It can be daily,” said Al Frieh, who has lived on the block for 22 years. “I’m home during the daytime a lot because of my schedule, so I see it.”
Why are there semis rolling north – it’s always north – from Southview Avenue on Madison? Because many of those drivers made a wrong turn trying to get to the receiving/shipping dock at Sweetener Supply, the food products manufacturer whose address is listed at 9501 Southview Ave.
Except that’s not where the shipping/receiving dock at the plant is located. You have to access the area from Shawmut Avenue, a block south of Southview Avenue. However, if you’re a truck driver making your first trip to the plant and plug the address into Google Maps or Waze, the GPS apps will tell you to turn left from Kemman Avenue onto Southview Avenue instead of going another block south to Shawmut.
“It’s been a problem as long as I can remember, but it’s gotten worse,” said Frieh. “When we first got here, Sweetener Supply was a lot smaller.”
Joe Gardella, CEO of Sweetener Supply, which purchased the Brookfield property 22 years ago and enlarged it in 2021 by purchasing an adjacent Southview Avenue industrial property, said he and other company officials are aware of the issue and have tried to address it through the years.
The company was successful in getting Google Maps and Waze to differentiate the Sweetener Supply offices on Southview and the shipping/receiving area off of Shawmut. The trouble is that if you choose shipping/receiving the app still sends you down Southview Avenue.
Efforts by the company either through the village or post office to get a separate address for the shipping/receiving entrance, said Gardella, have not panned out to date.
Gardella said the wayward trucks account for just a fraction of those seeking the Sweetener Supply loading dock – he estimated it at 1 percent – adding that if those making deliveries call the company, they get detailed instructions to head to Shawmut and a specific warning not to make the left turn onto Southview.
“We’ve done everything we can since we’ve purchased the property in 2000 to be a good neighbor,” Gardella said.
He also argued that some of the semis that neighborhood residents are seeing on Southview Avenue are making deliveries to Ideal Heating, at 9515 Southview Ave.
Andy Usher of Ideal Heating says that very well may be true, as they’ve been particularly busy lately and have been getting one or two deliveries via semi each day. After those deliveries are made, Usher said, his understanding is that the truck drivers go to Maple Avenue and turn left on Maple Avenue to exit the village.
Whether that’s an officially sanctioned way to go is not clear. Maple Avenue northbound appears to be a no-truck route, though it’s tough to tell. There’s a “no trucks” sign for northbound Maple Avenue traffic at Ogden Avenue, but there isn’t one at Southview and there isn’t another “no trucks” sign until just north of the Veterans Memorial Circle.
Usher still has a 2003 letter from the village instructing delivery drivers to access Ideal Heating via Kemman Avenue to Southview. The company in response inquired what direction those drivers should exit, but Usher said he didn’t have a record of the village responding, though it’s possible they did, and it just got lost.
Ideal Heating delivery drivers, however, don’t appear to be the ones hesitating and looking lost as they search for an exit from Southview Avenue.
“One hundred percent of the time, if I see a guy who’s lost, they’re looking for Sweetener Supply,” Frieh said.
Sweetener Supply also worked with the village of Brookfield to erect a sign on the northeast corner of the Southview/Kemman intersection – there used to be two until one of them got knocked down – instructing truckers to keep heading south, but it’s not a typical “no trucks” sign and has not been a foolproof solution.
“It’s a non-standard traffic sign,” Frieh said. “What would cue [drivers] not to go there is a big ‘no truck’ sign with the X through it. They don’t catch it until after they go.”
Within minutes during a recent visit to the area, a Landmark reporter saw a truck with its left-turn signal on hit the brakes before making the turn onto Southview. On that occasion, the driver had seen the sign and slowly inched south toward Shawmut.
But the drivers don’t always see the sign in time. They head east on Southview and slowly realize they’ve made a mistake. There is an entrance to the shipping/receiving area from Southview Avenue, but semis can’t make the sharp right turn needed to get in there.
If they go far enough, it’s too difficult to back out, and 3-ton weight-limit signs prevent them from turning left onto Blanchan, Cleveland, Morton, Harrison and Raymond avenues.
The first street without a weight restriction sign is Madison Avenue, where there’s also a convenient gravel area where truckers can swing their rigs right in order to make the sharp left turn onto Madison Avenue. If there are cars parked on both sides of Madison Avenue, it’s a very tight squeeze for a semi.
In the past Frieh, a commercial airline pilot who also has experience as a semi driver and served as a safety officer for a transportation company, would sometimes help lost drivers by directing them to Maple Avenue where he would block traffic to allow the semis to make a slow wide-swinging turn right over the tracks.
“I’ve probably helped in the past five, six years two dozen trucks, because I’m a trucker,” Frieh said. “I’ll be, ‘Hey, follow me.’”
There’s a way to Shawmut Avenue through LaGrange, which Frieh would show drivers. Recently, however, the village of Brookfield put a street sign on the northwest corner of Maple and Southview, making it virtually impossible for trucks to make the right turn over the tracks at Maple Avenue, Frieh said.
“The last guy I took [in mid-July], the sign at [Maple and Southview] was new and it was hard,” Frieh said. “Maple Avenue north is no trucks and to get to 31st you have to go through Eight Corners. If I ever have to do it again, I’m going to drive them back to Fairview. I’ll never take them on that right turn [over the tracks] again.”
Frieh brought the matter to the attention of the village board in July at one of their meetings that month. Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla said his department has not received much in the way of complaints, so police don’t view it as a pervasive problem.
“As far as calls for service, we don’t have much,” he said.
Kuruvilla said one thing police and officials at Sweetener Supply might do is contact Google and other GPS mapping apps makers and see if there’s a way to not direct traffic to the manufacturer’s Southview Avenue address.
“We can try to figure out how to make that change,” Kuruvilla said. “We’ll look into who’s responsible, and if we’re able to advocate, we’ll certainly make an appeal.”