Bill to study heavier trucks on Virginia roads gets rolling

RICHMOND — Members of the House Transportation Committee approved a plan Thursday to study allowing heavier trucks on Virginia’s roads.

Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, proposed legislation for Virginia’s Department of Transportation to convene a work group to examine safety, efficiency and infrastructure issues involved with allowing heavier tractor-trailers on state roads.

Garrett’s proposal would gather stakeholders to study the impact to the commonwealth if Virginia were to participate in a federal pilot program that would allow six-axle trucks weighing up to 91,000 pounds to traverse the state. The amended legislation is a step back from Garrett’s initial proposal, which would have allowed state transportation officials to enter into a federal pilot program that would permit 10 states to take on heavier trucks for study purposes.

There is no such federal pilot program yet, but Garrett hoped his initial legislation would secure Virginia’s spot at the table should the program become a reality. The work group Garrett is requesting would submit a report on its findings before the 2019 General Assembly session.

A federal pilot program likely would allow heavier trucks on the road upon its inception, whereas the state work group will just examine the issue.

Congress rejected plans for heavier trucks in 2015, but more recently, industry leaders have combined forces as the Safer Hauling and Infrastructure Protectioncoalition to again push for looser truck regulations.

With a few exemptions for certain cargo, Virginia currently caps tractor-trailers at 80,000 pounds.

“At the end of the day, my intent was and still is to have us evaluate the safety and efficiency parameters of the weights of our trucks on the roads and bridges of the commonwealth,” Garrett said.

When he presented his bill to the transportation committee Thursday, Garrett joked that he felt like Lt. Col. George Custer at his last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Garrett’s bill passed 20-0, and the Senate Transportation Committee passed Sen. Bill Carrico’s companion bill Wednesday.

Garrett’s earlier proposal was backed by state manufacturing representatives and shunned by some public safety officials and most rail supporters. Katie Rodgers of Anheuser-Busch testified in a House subcommittee panel last week that the company’s Williamsburg facility would net an additional $2.32 million and reduce the number of miles driven in Virginia by 260,000 should the state permit larger trucks.

Garrett has accepted $2,250 in campaign contributions from the Virginia Trucking Association and $750 from Anheuser-Busch, according to the Virginia Public Access Project database.

Representatives from Norfolk Southern and the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance were among those who spoke against the earlier version of the bill.

Citing safety concerns and possible damage to Virginia’s roads and bridges, Pulaski Police Chief Gary Roche opposes permitting heavier trucks. A high number of trucks already travel the stretch of Interstate 81 that runs through the Roanoke and New River valleys, an area fraught with congestion and collisions, he said.

“The hilly terrain complicates the traffic flow, and heavier trucks cannot maintain the speed limit on these uphill grades, causing congested traffic at significantly reduced speeds,” he said in a news release.

Garrett’s bill will undergo a final House vote on the floor next week.

Source: The Roanoke Times