New Jersey bills focus on hazmat loads, turnpike use

| 8/21/2008

Hauling of hazardous materials and trucking on the New Jersey Turnpike are among the topics that have received attention this year at the New Jersey statehouse.

Sen. John Adler, D-Camden, is the sponsor of a bill that would give the Delaware River Port Authority the authority to inspect hazmat carriers and cargo.

State law now limits such inspections to the State Police, police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and specially designed state Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection personnel.

In a statement attached to the bill, Adler wrote that the DRPA officials say the police officers are trained to perform such inspections and are knowledgeable in the federal regulations concerning hazmat loads. In Pennsylvania, he points out that the DRPA officers already have this authority.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, is the author of another bill that addresses hazmat loads. The measure would double the fines for certain offenses committed by hazmat haulers.

Violations that would be subject to double fines include moving violations, such as speeding, reckless and careless driving, illegal passing and disobeying traffic signals.

Scutari wrote that “the public interest and well being requires that the operators of vehicles that transport hazardous materials be held to the highest standards.”

Revenue generated from the higher fines would be deposited into state’s Highway Safety Fund.

A separate bill calls for limiting traffic in certain lanes on the turnpike. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Baroni, R-Mercer, the measure would require the Turnpike Authority to prohibit cars on portions of the roadway that are dedicated to commercial vehicles and buses during certain times and under certain circumstances.

The authority would be responsible for determining those times of heaviest use by trucks and buses and then prohibiting smaller vehicles from accessing those lanes. Exceptions would be made for lane closures, traffic congestion, and other conditions that impede traffic.

Another bill offered by Baroni would require the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to reduce toll rates for commercial trucks. The measure is intended to encourage truck drivers to use the toll way instead of local routes, such as U.S. Routes 1, 206 and 31.

Baroni wrote that “the increased use of local highways by commercial trucks creates hazardous driving conditions for motorists and increases the wear and tear” on highways that “were not designed for the present volume of commercial trucks.”

One more effort is intended to cut truckers a break on tolls along the turnpike. Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, introduced a non-binding resolution that would reduce tolls by 50 percent for trucks on the roadway between midnight and 6 a.m.

Citing truck tolls along the turnpike that increased 100 percent in the early 1990s, Turner wrote in a statement attached to the legislation that truck traffic on local roads has increased dramatically.

Despite the increase in toll revenues, there are revenues lost from truckers who don’t use the roadway, she wrote. Concern about wear and tear, as well as safety on the affected roads makes it more cost effective to cut truck tolls in half “to encourage truckers to use the facility, which was designed for such traffic.”

Adler’s bill – S238 – is in the Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Scutari’s bill – S127, Baroni’s bills – S586 and S587, and Turner’s resolution – SR23 – are in the Senate Transportation Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor