Local Politics

Lawmakers to consider lifting truck restrictions

Posted June 25, 2008 7:04 a.m. EDT
Updated June 25, 2008 9:32 a.m. EDT

— The House Transportation Committee on Wednesday will consider legislation that would allow trucks with 53-foot-long trailers on all primary highway routes.

Current law restricts the long rigs to interstates and designated highways. It allows 48-foot trailers anywhere.

The measure would also allow recreational boats to be hauled on roads without a permit if they are less than 10 feet wide, compared with the current 8½ feet. Weight restrictions on trucks carrying agricultural products and lumber would also be loosened.

The Senate approved the bill 47-0 last week.

Truck Safety Coalition state coordinator Jen Tierney said the proposed legislation is unsafe and would lead to more accidents because some of the routes are too narrow to accommodate them.

“The economic gain for the traffic industry is not worth the lives of our citizens,” Tierney said.

The bill's backers have said the legislation is needed to help grow North Carolina's economy. The trucking industry supports the plan because, it said, some trucks can't get to and from businesses.

“The size trucks being proposed in the legislation really has been the industry standard for a decade now,” state Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Sherry Melton said.

The bill's opponents said even experienced truck drivers will have difficulty maneuvering longer trucks on two-lane or winding roads.

Lake Lure Police Chief Eric Hester said truck drivers already struggle to control their vehicles when traversing some of his town's routes, and that his officers sometimes escort the small trucks in an effort to stave off an accident.

Both residents and police officers alike have been run off the road by wayward trucks in his town, which is about 45 minutes outside of Asheville, he said.

"I have seen 48-foot trucks coming through the town of Lake Lure ... that cannot stay in their own lane, much less a 53-foot truck," Hester said.

The bill allows for the Department of Transportation to work with the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee to bar vehicles on specific routes if engineering studies show their use would be unsafe.

The bill doesn't make engineering studies of the routes mandatory, however.

"This is putting the cart before the horse," Tierney said. "This is a post-mortem approach to highway safety."

The state Department of Transportation, which has some safety concerns about the plan, has begun assembling a list of routes that may pose a safety risk if opened to the larger vehicles, said DOT state traffic engineer Kevin Lacy.

But studying all the roads included in the bill would take months, if not longer, he said.

"The ones that we're concerned about are those that may not be as apparent as some up in the mountains," Lacy said.

Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, House Transportation Committee chairwoman, said she is aware of the safety concerns and that her panel will consider amendments to the plan if they're proposed.

The full House and Senate need to approve the same version of the bill before it can be sent to Gov. Mike Easley's desk.