By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
The Texas Legislature meets for regular session every other year. When they gather, they tend to tackle issues that are high interest to truckers.
During the past few months, Lone Star State lawmakers continued this trend. Issues covered at the statehouse included speed limits, tolls and truck idling.
One bit of good news for truckers is that the days of setting speed limits in Texas by the presence of the sun could soon be a method of the past. A bill sent to Gov. Rick Perry would allow truckers and other drivers to travel at the same speed, night and day.
If signed into law, the speed limit would increase on most rural highways to 75 mph day and night – as long as state studies deem it safe. In addition, any speed differential between cars and trucks would be eliminated.
The 80 mph speed limit for smaller vehicles on sections of interstates 10 and 20 in West Texas would also apply to all vehicles, 24 hours a day.
Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, said the changes will reflect what most vehicles are already driving.
“My experience is that people are already driving 75,” he told Land Line. “We are going to put in statute what people are doing.”
Owner-operator and OOIDA Life Member Frank Owen of Waco, TX, said the change will help reduce the speed gap between what a lot of traffic travels and those vehicles that strictly follow the posted limit.
“Texas is the worst state I’ve ever seen for speeding. If you go the speed limit, you get run over,” he said. “The change will really help cut down on interactions between cars and trucks. Everyone will be going about the same speed – as it should be.”
Speed limit discussion does not end there. Also on the governor’s desk is a bill to authorize the highest speed limit in the nation.
If signed into law, speeds of 85 mph could be authorized on new highways.
OOIDA leadership says the uniformity of speeds is truckers’ primary concern.
“The only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.
A separate provision in the bill would write the Trans-Texas Corridor out of the books.
The corridor was once championed by Gov. Perry. After years of debate in Austin, the multibillion-dollar TTC was declared dead in 2009, but concern about language still on the books spurred additional action.
The bill would remove any reference to the failed highway project from statute.
Another bill on the governor’s desk includes provisions to overhaul TxDOT, authorize private toll roads, transfer permitting for oversize and overweight vehicles, and restrict use of ticket cameras.
Changes at TxDOT have been sought for the past few years in retaliation for the board turning a deaf ear to public sentiment about the TTC.
Changes would include the following: having an inspector general appointed to offer independent scrutiny of operation; firing employees found to have lobbied the Legislature; and creating a 20-year transportation plan.
A separate provision in the bill would allow about 20 private toll roads to be built.
Opponents say the state should not give up control of its roads to corporate interests, which often are foreign-owned.
“I think it’s a fragmented approach to how we deal with what our needs are for the state,” Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, told lawmakers during floor consideration. “It just looks pretty shabby.”
Also awaiting Perry’s signature is a bill to permit trucks with “clean idle” engines to idle while also providing an incentive to reduce idling.
Texas law now limits idling to five minutes per hour from April to October in cities that include Austin and Dallas. Counties that make idling off limits are Bastrop, Caldwell, Collin, Hays, Kaufman, Tarrant, Travis and Williamson.
The idling restriction would be removed for trucks equipped with a 2008 model year or newer engine that is certified by the EPA. Heavy-duty engines certified by a state environmental agency to emit fewer than 30 grams of NOx per hour would also qualify.
In the bill analysis, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, wrote that “during many months of the year, it is impossible for a driver to get the rest he or she needs without air conditioning or heat.”
OOIDA Senior Member Danny Schnautz of Pasadena, TX, likened sitting inside a truck during the Texas summer to sitting in a “hotbox.” Schnautz is in charge of operations, sales and accounting for Clark Freight Lines in Pasadena, TX.
“Anything that moves toward the flexibility of letting the truck idle is a good thing,” Schnautz said.
A separate provision in the bill would increase the maximum weight limits for large trucks equipped with idle-reduction technology. Commercial vehicles equipped with auxiliary power units would be authorized to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds. LL