Florida to allow heavier trucks starting Thursday

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist recently signed into law a transportation bill that will allow heavier trucks on designated state roads. The bill authorizes vehicles weighing up to 88,000 lbs. on certain roads. The 80,000 lbs. limit remains for the Interstates.

florida.jpgThe bill also exempts APUs weighing up to 400 lbs. from the weight requirements. Both laws go into effect Thursday.

Florida has just become the latest test case for heavier trucks, which several industry groups support. But the bill faced resistance in Florida.

“What it all boils down to is safety," said Steve Casey, executive director at the Florida Sheriffs Association. "The well-being of the hundreds of thousands of motorists who travel on Florida's roadways is being put at risk for the sake of special interests. The heavier the truck, the more difficult it is to control. There’s a danger factor that all Floridians should be aware of as far as this legislation is concerned - the fact that they are being ignored is beyond distressing."

The Florida DOT said raising the limit would require $150.7 million more annually to repair damaged infrastructure.

“Beyond the safety ramifications, Florida just doesn't have the transportation maintenance funds to make this legislation work," said Fraser Howe, PE, chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers committee which published the 2008 Report Card on Florida’s Infrastructure. "We’ve seen countless state and federal studies that show increased damage occurs to our roads and bridges as a result of higher volumes of heavy big rigs. While the Florida legislature passes legislation that would damage our highways, they are cutting the Dept. of Transportation's budget. The pieces just don’t fit.”

Opponents also point out the safety issues that come with heavier trucks.

“The dangers of increasing tractor-trailer truck weights are well known – they are harder to stop, steer and more vulnerable to rollover during a crash,” said Tom Guilmet, the executive director of the Florida Safety Council. “But, by far, the most compelling objection to heavier trucks is the fact that they will cause more deaths and injuries on our highways.”

But while a number of organizations fight heavier trucks, some are pushing for the increased productivity these trucks can provide.

“With truck traffic growing 11 times faster than road capacity, with overall traffic congestion still expected to double by 2035, this is the time to act to allow for higher gross vehicle weight limits on our highways,” Harry Haney III, associate director--logistics operations for Kraft Foods, said in comments at the National Private Truck Council’s (NPTC) annual meeting. “Now is the time to act on this – it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Florida’s law says companies must submit a planned route for approval before the truck can enter the roadway. As the war wages on for heavier trucks, this may be a small battle worth watching.

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