Could heavier trucks hit highways?

WASHINGTON — Big trucks with heavy loads could come to Virginia’s highways if some lawmakers get their way.

These are not the fun kind of monster trucks that intentionally crush cars, motor homes and other vehicles for the entertainment of fans who crowd into arenas to see them. These would be 18-wheeler trucks rolling down ordinary highways with loads of 91,000 pounds and perhaps more.

Supporters say the super trucks are important to keep commerce flowing, particularly for enterprises such as the Port of Virginia. They also argue that the heavier trucks would pose no additional threat to highway safety or infrastructure than existing 18-wheelers. Those advocates say they would just like to give Virginia flexibility to test the use and effect of super trucks, regardless of the federal government’s stance.

“If the feds are going to study it … I want to have a seat at that table,” said Del. T. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, who sponsored legislation that would permit the commonwealth to take part in any federal pilot program allowing heavier trucks. “If the feds aren’t going to study it, then the Virginia Department of Transportation ought to study it.”

Opponents argue, however, that the heavier trucks will inflict more damage to roads and bridges whose maintenance in the state and nationwide has already been neglected. They also say the trucks are more dangerous to surrounding traffic.

“The laws of physics do not change,” said Shane Reese, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT). “Heavier trucks at higher speeds means increased crash severity.”

CABT and other opponents — several of which are funded by rail interests — argue that opening the nation’s roads to heavier trucks would also mean diverting freight from the nation’s railroads at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. These are factors that Congress took into consideration when it decided against raising the weight limits in November 2015. The trucking industry, they say, has turned to state legislatures to try to get what they couldn’t get in Washington.

There aren’t even any pilot programs or plans for pilot programs at the federal level at the moment. Backers are hoping that by passing state legislation, they could create momentum for action.

Source: The Daily Progress