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    Foes weigh in against plan for heavier trucks

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- The state wants to put heavier trucks on Florida roads -- including all state roads in Tampa.

    Thursday, law enforcement officials and AAA Auto Club South asked Gov. Jeb Bush to put the brakes on the idea.

    The new rule -- proposed by Florida's Department of Transportation -- would increase allowable truck weights from 80,000 pounds to 95,000 pounds on certain routes, including state roads in Tampa, Jacksonville, southeast Florida and Pensacola.

    Most of the heavier trucks would be diverted to state roads because the federal government has strict weight limits on interstates. Truckers with heavy loads could also apply for separate permits to use county roads.

    The DOT estimates that the heavier loads will boost state road repair costs by about $4-million a year. Truckers pay a $500 annual fee for the special permits, but AAA Auto Club South says taxpayers would still pick up most of the repair tab -- about 60 cents for every dollar worth of damage the heavy trucks cause.

    The proposal is "a sweet deal for the trucking industry and a bad deal for everyone else," charged Kevin Bakewell, vice president of AAA Auto Club South.

    The trucking industry argues that the new rule will allow Florida truckers to compete better in a global market.

    But among the paramedics and law enforcement officers who gathered at a Tallahassee newsconference Thursday, those business concerns were brushed aside.

    "It's not a money issue with us," said Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell, vice chairman of the board of the Florida Sheriff's Association. "It's an issue of public safety. It's a run-over-and-get-killed type issue. Think of the difference between the weight of that truck and a motorcycle (rider) without a helmet."

    Florida already has heavy truckloads on its roads, said Jim Long of the Florida Trucking Association. They operate by special permit, and have to be carrying cargo from international ports.

    One big change is that all truckers could get a permit to haul heavier loads -- not just those hauling international cargo from ports.

    "I can't imagine running bigger 18-wheelers through the center of Tampa," said state Sen. Jim Sebesta, a St. Petersburg Republican who is vice chairman of the Senate Transportation committee.

    Opponents say a 95,000-pound truck does as much road damage as 21,500 automobiles.

    "Our communities cannot withstand the wear and tear and the traffic," said Jim Dixon, Pensacola's fire chief.

    The DOT wants to limit the new program to 2,000 of the heavier trucks each year.

    "We're only talking about 2,000 trucks here, which is not a significant number when you consider that there's about 100,000 trucks on the roads each year," said Long of the Florida Trucking Association. "I hate for (truckers) to be the bad guys here. It's popular to demonize trucks, but you have to keep in mind that trucks serve the public. The common saying is: Everything in your house -- except the baby -- was brought by a truck."

    Long said Florida truckers are at a competitive disadvantage because international haulers can get special permits to take 95,000-pound loads from ports. But Florida truckers cannot.

    "A Brazilian orange juice hauler can just pick up the load," Long said. "A Florida orange juice hauler has to break his up. We just want an even playing field."

    Bill Albaugh, the DOT's director of highway operations, said allowing heavier loads should reduce the number of trucks on Florida roads -- a notion the AAA Auto Club South disputes. They say the state's growth will bring more goods -- and more trucks -- every year.

    The state will hold a public workshop on the issue in Tallahassee on Dec. 4.

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