Truck speed reductions closer to reality in several Tennessee counties

| 1/25/2005

Officials in Tennessee hope to breath a little easier in a few weeks.

The state’s transportation director is expected this week to approve the first of a handful of requests to reduce the speed limits in urban areas for large trucks as a way to fight air pollution. All other vehicles will be allowed to drive at the current 70 mph limit.

Gerald Nicely, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is slated to authorize posting 55-mph speed limit signs for large trucks in Hamilton County. Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker requested the change.

Truckers in Hamilton County won’t likely see the new limit posted until early summer, TDOT spokeswoman Kim Keelor said.

Within the next month, Shelby County could become the second metropolitan area approved for the lower truck limits. Similar requests from Knox County and the Nashville metropolitan area also await action.

Officials in the state’s largest cities hope the slower truck traffic will help their areas meet new federal air-quality standards for ozone pollution. Studies have shown that internal combustion engines emit lower amounts of nitrogen oxides, a key ozone ingredient, at slower speeds.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, questions that if the true intent of slower speeds is to reduce pollution, why the state would only lower truck speeds.

“Talk about missing the obvious: If vehicle speed correlates to pollution, how many more cars are there than trucks,” Spencer asked. “How much more obvious could it be?”

All of Tennessee’s largest metropolitan areas failed last year to meet the new air standards. Failure to develop plans to clean up the air by 2007 could result in an end to industrial expansion and large cuts in federal highway funding for the area.

Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton requested the lower limit in a letter sent to Nicely last summer. The Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board and Metropolitan Planning Organization backed the change.

The city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County have also requested TDOT authorize confining trucks to the right lanes.

Keelor said the department continued to consider the proposal.

“We may be announcing something about that later this year,” she said.

The speed limit and lane changes do not require state legislative approval.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor