Georgia senators advance bill allowing truck weight changes on highways

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A plan to boost weight limits for trucks on Georgia state highways is proving a heavy lift against determined opposition.

After the scope of the bill was cut down earlier in the House and still garnered barely enough votes to pass, the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday took a few more logs off the truck.

The committee, on a 7-4 vote, approved a new version of House Bill 189 that would allow trucks moving agricultural and forestry commodities to carry up to 88,000 pounds on state roads. Now, the limit on state roads is 80,000 pounds, but trucks are allowed a variance of up to 84,000 pounds.

The bill goes to the full Senate for more debate. The House would have to approve the changes.

The higher limit would only be good until July 1, 2024. Heavier trucks wouldn’t be allowed in 13 core metro Atlanta counties, and local police and sheriff’s deputies could for the first time write tickets for overweight trucks. Now, only the state Motor Carrier Compliance Division can write tickets.

By next year, senators said, Georgia leaders need to try to find ways to increase funding for the state’s transportation system. Lawmakers have been pushing for a statewide freight and logistics plan, but it would cost another $1 billion a year, at least, to pay for projects including wider highways, improved interchanges and expanded railroads.

‘I think it’s important that this committee be engaged fully with the business community, the ag community and also the Department of Transportation over the next six to eight months,’ said Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican. ‘We have to get this freight and logistics plan implemented but we have to have lots of money to do it.’

A House committee had originally sought to permanently raise the weight limit to 90,000 pounds for all trucks, before voting 93-81 to allow that heavier weight for only logging, farming and mining commodities. But Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Greg Dolezal, a Republican from Cumming, bluntly told supporters ‘there are not the votes on this committee’ to pass even the bill the House passed.

City and county governments and the Georgia Department of Transportation have ferociously opposed the increase, warning that heavier weights will cause much more expensive damage to roads and bridges. They also say many more bridges would have to be posted as too weak to allow 88,000-pound trucks, taking away some of the advantages of the higher limit. Other opponents warn heavier trucks could cause more crashes because of increased stopping distance.

Trucks would remain limited to 80,000 pounds on interstate highways.

Logging, farming and trucking groups have long been seeking the increase, saying they could save money by hauling more freight per trip. Loggers particularly argued that higher weight limits could make the difference between profit and loss in their low-margin industry.

Gov. Brian Kemp had been allowing heavy trucks that get special permits to haul up to 95,000 pounds, under a supply chain emergency order that he repeatedly renewed. But that order finally expired on March 11, reducing the limit to 84,000 pounds.

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