A new law in Mississippi is getting attention because of the strain it is putting on roadways throughout the state.
The new law changes weight rules for harvest loads and vehicles hauling prepackaged products unloaded or to be loaded at a state port, or traveling on noninterstate highways.
Signed into law this spring by Gov. Phil Bryant, the new rule permits affected trucks to carry more cargo. Specifically, the tolerance the state gives for harvest weight limits and related loads was increased from 5 percent to 10 percent.
Previously SB2418, the new law increases the tandem axle weight for affected loads from 42,000 pounds to 44,000 pounds. The change applies to loads that include farm goods, as well as gravel, sand, soil and timber.
The tolerance allows 84,000-pound gross weights for harvest-permitted vehicles loading at a point of origin with a scale.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation clarified in a released statement the law does not change the commodities for a harvest permit. Neither does it increase the 84,000-pound gross weight limit for vehicles operating with a harvest permit.
Additionally, the law does not increase the tandem axle tolerance for vehicles hauling products for recycling or materials for construction or repair of highways. The tandem axle tolerance remains at 5 percent over the 40,000-pound maximum axle weight for those vehicles.
The transportation agency was opposed to the rule change as it winded its way through the statehouse. Agency officials say they do not see a benefit to the change.
MDOT was forced to reevaluate all bridges on the state-owned system to meet the new weight limits. As a result of an analysis, the number of bridges with posted weight restrictions increased from 125 to 302.
“This increase in posted bridges will have a severe impact on commerce and travel around the state,” Mike Tagert, commissioner for the Northern Transportation District, said in prepared remarks. “This is effectively restricting commerce, which is the last thing Mississippi needs right now.”
Tagert also said the new weight restrictions will force many commercial vehicle drivers to alter routes to find bridges that will be able to accommodate heavier loads.
Transportation Commission Chair Dick Hall said the Legislature chose to permit the heavier loads despite information provided to lawmakers about the potential fiscal impact from SB2418.
“When changes are made to restrictions and weight limits for commercial vehicles, the impacts may not be immediately obvious, but they can be far reaching and costly,” Hall stated.
To further complicate matters, as of mid-August there are 437 locally owned bridges across the state that are closed because they are deemed to be unsafe by inspectors. Another 1,745 are posted with specific weight limits due to structural deficiencies.
Local governments do not have the funds to pay their share for necessary repairs to get the bridges reopened.
In an effort to help address the issue, Mississippi state lawmakers are scheduled to return to the capitol on Thursday, Aug. 23, to see what they can get done to address transportation needs.
Gov. Bryant last week announced his plan to convene a two-day special session to focus on coming up with a plan to address a projected $400 million annual shortfall to cover costs of road and bridge work.
The Republican governor and GOP legislators have proposed or discussed multiple options to address transportation funding needs. Options to aid infrastructure include diverting internet sales taxes, tapping into sports betting revenue, creating a state lottery, borrowing and diverting available funds.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Mississippi, click here.
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