Legislators, beware — efficiency can have a costly downside.
Who's for allowing heavier trucks laden with construction materials on state and county roads and city streets? Not Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and more than a dozen other sheriffs around the state. Stanek says heavier trucks "take longer to come to a complete stop, are less stable and have more brake maintenance problems" than lighter ones.
Not county officials. Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan says allowing heavier trucks to rumble away from the several aggregate material suppliers in the south metro area would cost his county's taxpayers an additional $30 million a year in road repairs. Chisago County Commissioner Mike Robinson frets that allowing trucks to weigh up to 99,000 pounds would put many on the road weighing even more because enforcement of truck weights is often underfunded by the Legislature.
Truck drivers, too, oppose heavier trucks, says Edward Reynoso of Teamsters Council 32. Bigger loads are more prone to rollovers, Reynoso said. "We want the safest possible environment for our drivers and the public."
Those concerns deserve heed at the Legislature. Bills are advancing in both the House and Senate that would allow a nearly 24 percent increase in the weight of trucks bearing aggregate material. Their sponsors say they would bring greater efficiency to construction projects — including highway and public works projects, which in turn would save taxpayers money.
And that, in turn, illustrates the risk that goes with squeezing more road-building out of existing state budgets, as Republican legislators and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce have demanded. Efficiency in the short run can take a long-term toll in both monetary and human terms.
The bill's House sponsor, GOP Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar, noted that heavier trucks are allowed in all four of Minnesota's adjacent states, and that puts Minnesota construction haulers at a competitive disadvantage. But the 50-ton trucks his bill would allow could not use the Interstate Highway System. The federal weight limit per truck is 80,000 pounds, matching Minnesota's current law. If Minnesota's weight limits go up, heavier vehicles won't be on the interstates. They'll be on state and county highways and local roads.
Baker's bill would increase an annual permit fee for the heavier trucks by $200 per vehicle, with the proceeds flowing through MnDOT to county bridge inspection funds. He estimates that the new fee would raise $1 million a year. That's small compensation for the risks heavier trucks bring.
The Minnesota truck weight issue parallels a fight in Congress in recent years, with the railroad industry financing the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks both nationally and at the Legislature. But former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, who leads the anti-heavy truck lobbying team in Minnesota, said he has needed no inducements from the railroad industry to recruit local elected officials and law enforcement leaders to his side. They understand the public safety hazard and infrastructure costs associated with heavier trucks. State lawmakers should, too.
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