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    State halts plan for heavier semitrailer trucks

    Transportation officials bow to opponents, who argued higher weight limits would tear up roads.

    By CHRISTINE GRAEF

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


    Strong opposition to a proposal to let semitrailer trucks roll through towns loaded loaded with up to 95,000 pounds of pavement-crunching cargo has led the Florida Department of Transportation to scrap the idea for now.

    "We don't need 95,000-pound trucks on our roads," Oldsmar City Council member Ed Manny said after he and colleagues voted to oppose the proposal.

    As it turned out, the DOT had already heard that message -- and many others like it. DOT stopped consideration of a proposal to let trucks weighing up to 95,000 pounds rumble along the state's roads. "After getting more than 500 phone calls and e-mails opposing the idea, we canceled (last) week's workshop," said DOT spokesperson Dick Kane. "The secretary decided there wouldn't be much point in a public hearing because the public already let us know how it felt."

    The proposal would have raised the maximum truck cargo weight limit, which is now 80,000 pounds. Currently, only those trucks carrying foreign cargo can carry loads up to 95,000 pounds under an international maritime shipping provision. For example, marble tile being shipped from Italy into Miami's port can be loaded onto a truck and driven to Pinellas County because it is a foreign shipment. So far this year there have been 1,117 of these permits issued in Florida.

    Had the proposal been approved, an estimated 2,000 more permits would have been issued each year in Florida allowing trucks to carry up to 95,000 pounds, even if the cargo was strictly domestic. There have been 3,333 permits issued in the state so far this year allowing trucks with loads of up to 80,000 pounds.

    "It would not change the size of the trucks used now, only the weight they carry inside," said Bill Albaugh, DOT director of highway operations.

    Spokesmen for trucking associations say they won't give up.

    According to a cost analysis done by the DOT six months ago, increasing the maximum cargo weight would save the trucking industry $3-million a year by reducing the number of trucks on the road.

    "This would slow down the number of trucks on the highway by 23 percent," said Charles Brantley, president of the Florida Trucking Association.

    The association approached DOT last year asking for a three-year trial of the proposal.

    "Not all the trucks would be loaded to 95,000 pounds," Kane said. "Some would carry only 100 additional pounds. But we looked at the worst-case scenario. If every truck were that heavy, we determined it would cost $4-million a year in damages to the roadway in wear and tear."

    At a cost of $500 each, the 2,000 additional permits for big loads each year would have generated only $1-million toward road repair.

    City governments, organizations such as AAA Auto Club and highway safety groups opposed the plan.

    In Oldsmar, Manny felt that the DOT did not have a firm grasp of the implications of increasing the maximum weight allowed on the road.

    "They don't have a very good explanation," he said. "How much would the number of permits increase every year?"

    Last week, Manny sponsored a unanimous resolution saying that the higher weight limit would make "trucks more susceptible to rollover, increase crash risk because of greater weight and speed differentials with other traffic, and make it more likely that when crashes do occur, they will be fatal to car occupants."

    But truckers say opponents don't appreciate the benefits of making the change.

    "But probably more important than the cost to the industry or the degradation of roads, it would have controlled the number of trucks on the road every day," said Brantley. "Taking trucks off the road increases safety. I don't think the public understands that there are already a lot of trucks out there, and this would reduce their numbers."

    Brantley said the industry will not accept DOT's decision to scrap the plan.

    "We're going to pursue this," he said. Brantley said he will be talking to DOT and AAA Auto Club to arrange a meeting to discuss the issue.

    Albaugh said the state conducted the study because of the potential to reduce the number of trucks on the highways.

    "I think this will happen eventually," said Brantley. "A lot of states already allow for heavier weights of 100,000 pounds. Canada's standard is 112,000 pounds. I expect Florida will follow."

    - Staff writer Christine Graef can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or graef@sptimes.com.

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