by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
The Georgia Senate passed a bill to increase the maximum weight limit for tractor trailers hauling forestry and agricultural products by several tons despite warnings from government officials that the heavier loads are dangerous and costly.
With few days left in the 2023 legislative session, the Senate bill differs greatly from a House proposal to allow heavier big rigs. Lawmakers argue allowing logging trucks to carry heavier loads is critical to keep small operations rolling and distribute goods more efficiently.
With a 44-to-5 vote on Thursday, senators approved House Bill 189, which increases the weight limit for logging trucks and tractor trailers carrying vegetables, solid waste, and recycling materials from 84,000 pounds to 88,000 pounds. The Georgia House sent HB 189 to the Senate in early March to make the Crossover Day deadline.
This session, as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expired that allowed trucks to carry more than the legal limit, the debate over truck weights intensified. A large truck could haul up to 95,000 pounds of goods on Georgia’s state highways and local roads under those orders.
The Senate version sets a sunset clause for July 1, 2024, and lowers the weight threshold by 7,000 pounds from Kemp’s executive orders. Further, the Senate plan restricts the heaviest trucks from traveling in the multi-county metro-Atlanta area, lowers the maximum distance from 250 miles to 75 miles, and grants local law enforcement citation authority.
Republican Sen. Russ Goodman said neighboring states allow loads exceeding 98,000 pounds, placing Georgia at a disadvantage.
“I consider this bill to be a lifeline to the people I represent that supply food and fiber to all of our constituents,” Goodman said. “Without our No. 1 industry we are no longer Georgia.”
Frank Ginn, a Republican senator from Danielsville, said he knows the dangers posed by heavy trucks prone to tipping. He recalled a truckload that exceeded 131,000 pounds, and a deadly logging truck accident occurring near his home.
State law enforcement officials testified during committee hearings they’re undermanned when it comes to enforcing weight limits.
“Putting grotesquely overweight trucks on the road is dangerous for us all,” Ginn said. “Not only does it destroy our road system but it kills people.”
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Greg Dolezal said the sunset provision was necessary so that the freight and logistics agencies are engaged in discussions about how to fund billions of dollars in road and bridge maintenance. The Senate committee also rejected proposals to add new taxes on products shipped from retailers like Amazon.
“This bill as it came out of the House was dead on arrival in the transportation committee so we came up with a carefully crafted compromise for people in middle and south Georgia to do their work in the industries of forestry and agriculture,” Dolezal said. “A compromise that addressed many of the concerns about the locals who are worried about funding, who are worried about safety, who are worried about things like the sunset. Most importantly those who want the ability to enforce those laws within their own jurisdiction.”
This story was written by Stanley Dunlap, a reporter for the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.
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