Truck ban in Morgantown, W.V., struck down by state supreme court

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Monday, April 11, 2016

Truckers driving on West Virginia State Route 7 will not have to make a detour as they approach Morgantown, W.V. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia recently upheld a lower court’s decision that the city does not have the authority to carry through with a truck ban on a section of the highway.

In 2013, a group called Safe Streets Morgantown attempted to ban trucks from using WV Route 7, which passes through Morgantown’s B-4 Business District. According to court documents, the group lobbied for the city council to pass an ordinance that would prohibit vehicles exceeding a certain size and weight from using the section of the highway through the city.

On July 25, 2014, the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Highways advised the city it did not have the authority to manage the road. WV Route 7 is included within the state route system, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Highways.

Despite DOT’s advice, the Morgantown City Council passed the WV Route 7 Heavy Truck Ordinance approximately one month later. The ordinance prohibited trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds, or any commercial vehicle registered as a Class 7 or greater, from using Route 7 in Morgantown unless conducting business within the city.

Approximately one month after the ordinance passed, Nuzum Trucking Co. and Preston Contractors, along with Greer Industries and the West Virginia DOT, filed a complaint against the city. The plaintiffs argued state law superseded Morgantown’s ordinance. Last January, the circuit court ruled in favor of the trucking plaintiffs without a need for a trial since the factual evidence rendered Morgantown’s case unwinnable.

Two state codes were in question: one establishing authority of the section of highway, the other establishing exceptions to that authority. The section of Route 7 in Morgantown is considered a “connecting part” of the state road system. According to state code, the Commissioner of Highways holds authority over connecting parts.

Morgantown argued the ordinance was valid since it fell under an exception granting municipalities control in matters of regulating traffic. However, the courts ruled truck size and weight are not included in the meaning of “the regulation of traffic.” In a legislative rule addressing traffic regulations of state highways by local rule, only speed limits and highway extensions are mentioned. Vehicle size and weight are not included, prompting the court to disagree with Morgantown’s argument.

Another state code does allow local authorities to restrict truck size and weight, the court said. That code gives the city authority on highways under its jurisdictions. Since the courts ruled the section of Route 7 belongs to the Commissioner of Highway, the code did not apply to Morgantown’s ordinance.

On April 7, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals agreed with the Circuit Court of Kanawha County’s summary judgment in support of the trucking plaintiffs.

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