'No Jake Brakes' Sign

This sign appeared along Woods Hole Road earlier in the month.

The installation, and subsequent removal, of “No Jake brake” signs on Woods Hole Road has raised questions among residents and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about where they originated. The signs were removed by state maintenance workers on Monday, December 22, after word spread about their appearance.

“We don’t know where these signs came from,” MassDOT spokesman Michael W. Verseckes said.

Jake braking, a function of trucks with diesel engines, involves the release of compressed air when the truck slows down on downhill grades. The action makes a loud noise.

When two signs prohibiting Jake braking appeared on Woods Hole Road several weeks ago, a few residents publicly thanked Catherine N. Norton, a Falmouth representative to the Steamship Authority Board of Governors.

Ms. Norton died of cancer on Monday, the same day the signs were removed by the state.

Before Ms. Norton died, Woods Hole resident Roger P. Day had placed a separate sign on the road that read “Thank you, Cathy.”

When asked on Tuesday, December 23, what he thought of the state’s response to the signs, Mr. Day said that he was unaware of the state’s denial of involvement. However, he was skeptical that the department was not somehow responsible.

“My thought is that the Department of Transportation is going large, and it could be that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” he said.

The signs could not have been approved or installed by MassDOT because its design does not match that of other state signs, Mr. Verseckes said. The state has the capability to make its own signs, but there are stringent specifications for the manufacturing process; the size, shape and font of the “No Jake brake” signs do not match the department’s regulations and the signs do not contain the retroflective material required by the state for night visibility, he said.

Furthermore, he said that the state would not ban Jake braking, as it is a safety function of diesel trucks. Eighteen-wheeler trucks and delivery trucks that carry a lot of weight use the function on narrower roads to slow down for curves and other drivers, Mr. Verseckes said.

“Having Jake braking and standard braking helps them keep the truck in control,” he said. “So we took them down... it was illegal to put them up.”

While it is possible that Ms. Norton spoke with a representative from the department, he added, a state employee would not have been responsible for installing the signs.

Town highway superintendent John T. Lyons did not have an answer as to how the signs originated, saying only that the town could not have been responsible for such action on a state road.

“I honestly have no idea who put them there or who suggested it,” he said.

Only one resident stated that she knows the truth. When contacted on Tuesday, December 23, Woods Hole Community Association co-president Catherine O. Bumpus said she knows who is responsible for installing the signs—but declined to provide any names.

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