Truck loads weighing 90K debated

Heavier loads could aid economic development, but some worry about safety and road deterioration.

Proponents of a plan to allow 90,000-pound trucks on Ohio highways say it will spur economic development and increase efficiency.

Opponents say it will compromise safety, deteriorate roads and might cost up to $40 million to implement if bridges need re-rated.

The provision to increase truck weight loads from 80,000-pounds on state roads was added to the state transportation budget, sponsored by state Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield.

The proposal calls for county roads to remain at the lower weight limits.

The bill recently passed the House and a vote is expected in the Senate this week.

McGregor supports the provision because he said it’s an opportunity to make Ohio more competitive and would reduce the number of trucks on the road.

“If you can maximize the amount of product you’re bringing in, or shipping out, it makes you more efficient,” McGregor said.

The provision was added to the bill by state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon. The Ohio Department of Transportation is in favor of the proposed language, McGregor said, because the agency believes it won’t affect safety or harm roadways.

“If there is anybody who understands the implications for our roads, it would be ODOT,” McGregor said. “They wouldn’t get behind something if they felt it was going to be detrimental in the long term.”

ODOT has endorsed the plan, but couldn’t be reached for comment last week.

The County Engineers Association of Ohio, County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Ohio Township Association and the Ohio Municipal League sent a joint letter to state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville and chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, asking to have the provision removed from the transportation bill.

The groups want lawmakers to consider how these trucks arrive on state highways, and that increased truck weights “would further accelerate the rate of deterioration.”

Truck drivers today rely on GPS systems, which often don’t know if they’re going onto a county road with a lower weight limit, said Fredrick Pausch, executive director of the county engineers association.

The groups also cite roads in counties statewide — including several in Champaign, Clark, Logan, Madison, Montgomery, Mercer and Darke counties — that begin as state highways, turn into county roads and then revert to state highways.

For example, part of Interstate 675 in Clark County turns into a county road and then later becomes Ohio 571.

“A driver of any overweight vehicle is not going to know when those changes occur,” Pausch said.

A federal government bridge program requires counties to load rate all bridges after highway bridge collapsed in Minnesota.

Pausch estimates it could cost $40 million statewide to implement a new bridge load rating process with the new weight requirements.

Clark County Engineer Johnathan Burr estimates his office has spent about $300,000 in the past five years to load rate 80 percent of the bridges in Clark County. He planned to finish the project by October.

“If you add any additional weight to the loads in Ohio, our county engineers are going to have to start from scratch load rating all those bridges again,” Pausch said.

A few bridges in Clark County might need re-evaluated or replaced to adhere to new weight standards, Burr said. Eleven bridges will be replaced this year at an estimated cost of $1 million.

“I’m replacing them as fast as I can,” Burr said.

The top priority for county engineers, Pausch said, is the safety of the traveling public.

According to the letter, Congress has authorized a study to examine safety and infrastructure issues surrounding the increased weight limits, which would be completed in 2014.

The opposed groups believe passing the legislation before the federal study is completed “is a bad idea.”

The largest opponent of the bill has been railroad operators who view it as a threat to their businesses, McGregor said. He was unaware of the letter sent to his Senate counterparts.

State Rep. Bob Hackett, R-London, who represents Madison County and parts of Clark and Greene counties, voted for the bill, but “wasn’t crazy” about the provision. The provision was passed by the House in 2011 transportation bill, but was later removed in the Senate.

County officials will still have jurisdiction on county roads concerning over-sized loads, Hackett said. He’s waiting to see what happens in the Senate because some county and township roads, especially in rural Madison County, “aren’t built for the heavier weight limits.”

Mark Shuman, the owner of Shuman Specialized Transportation, doesn’t like the proposed increased weight limits because customers will expect companies to carry that weight all of the time.

It will be less safe, he said, because truck drivers will be trying to stop the same truck with a bigger load. The change in weight limit would also lead to higher fuel and maintenance costs, he said.

“It’s more wear and tear, more costs, longer stopping times,” Shuman said. “It would be good for shippers, but it’s bad for safety and trucking companies.”