Mississippi heavy truck bill dies; other bills of note

| 2/27/2009

An effort in the Mississippi Legislature to allow heavier trucks on roads in the state will have to wait until next year. Two other matters of interest to professional drivers are headed in opposite directions.

One failed bill sought to increase the maximum weight allowed for vehicles on highways in the state to 88,000 pounds. Sponsored by Rep. Deryk Parker, D-Lucedale, the bill – HB371 – remained in the House Transportation Committee past the deadline to advance from the chamber, effectively killing it for the year.

It marks the second straight year Parker’s bill has failed to advance from committee. The bill sought a weight tolerance not to exceed 10 percent above a vehicle’s authorized gross vehicle weight, tandem or axle weight.

Fine amounts would have remained unchanged.

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

Increasing truck weight would require that many bridges throughout the state be replaced or strengthened, opponents said. Others said 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, was pleased to see this effort fall by the wayside. He said authorizing a tolerance weight 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.”

Meanwhile, the state’s Senate approved a separate bill that would affect truckers who haul in and out of northeast Mississippi ports. It now moves to the House.

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. The exemptions could not exceed federal limitations.

Open since 1985, 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 – SB2128 – 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.

The bill is in the House Transportation and Ports, Harbors and Airports committees.

While the waterway bill moves forward, a bill that sought to take a creative approach to reducing crossover wrecks on a portion of Interstate 59 has been put to rest.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, the measure never made it out of committee. HB48 would have required MDOT to develop and implement a median crossing safety project.

Instead of mandating the installation of cables to prevent crossovers, the bill called for trees to be planted in the median “where few or no trees exist.” The 10-mile portion of roadway that would have been 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.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.