Mississippi bills address heavier trucks, road safety

| 1/19/2009

Since they convened the 2009 regular session, Mississippi state lawmakers have been busy offering bills that cover a vast array of subjects. Several topics address truck-related issues and other matters of interest to professional drivers.

One bill offered for consideration in the House would allow for heavier trucks. Rep. Deryk Parker, D-Lucedale, introduced a measure that would increase the maximum weight allowed for vehicles on highways in the state to 88,000 pounds.

It is the second straight year Parker has brought the legislation before lawmakers. During the 2008 session, the bill failed to advance from committee.

Hopeful that the new year will bring a better outcome, Parker again offered the bill allowing a tolerance not to exceed 10 percent above a vehicle’s authorized gross vehicle weight, tandem or axle weight.

Fine amounts would remain unchanged.

Opponents of heavier trucks say the change would have a negative impact on Mississippi roads and bridges. They note that bridges in the state were built and designed when there were fewer and much lighter trucks traversing roads.

Increasing truck weight would require that many bridges throughout the state be replaced or strengthened, opponents say. Others say allowing larger trucks on Mississippi roadways would put the safety of the motoring public at risk.

Todd Spencer, executive vice-president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said authorizing a weight tolerance would be the wrong path to take.

“An 8,000-pound tolerance is just another way to increase gross weights,” Spencer told Land Line. “The 88,000-pound tolerance would become the de facto standard.”

Spencer also pointed out that federal law doesn’t permit tolerances “because they are routinely abused.”

A separate bill would affect truckers who haul in and out of northeast Mississippi ports.

Sponsored by Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, the measure would provide weight and size exemptions for commodities transported to or from terminals or port facilities on the Tombigbee River or Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which has been open since 1985. The exemptions could not exceed federal limitations.

The Waterway Development Authority reports the waterway is used to ship 8 million tons of forestry products, coal, construction materials and other items annually.

Brown’s bill would require the exempted loads to stay within counties with a bridge crossing the Tombigbee River or the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Also, the Mississippi Department of Transportation must issue a permit specifying the route within the county that the truck could travel.

Another bill is intended to reduce crossover wrecks on a portion of Interstate 59. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, the measure would require MDOT to develop and implement a median-crossing safety project.

Instead of mandating the installation of cables to prevent crossovers, the bill calls for trees to be planted in the median “where few or no trees exist.” The 10-mile portion of roadway that would be affected begins at the state’s border with Louisiana.

Formby wrote in the bill that the area would cover the stretch of median where MDOT last removed, or contracted for removal, trees.

Also on the list of bills offered for consideration are measures that would permit police to ticket drivers who fail to flip on their headlights during bad weather and would ban consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways.

Formby’s bill – HB48 – and Parker’s bill – HB371 – are in the House Transportation Committee. Brown’s bill – SB2128 – is in the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Mississippi in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor