Bigger Trucks May Soon Hit Minnesota Roads
Fights over transportation funding are a perennial battle at the Minnesota legislature. This year is no different.
Last week, the state House of Representatives passed a $7 billion transportation bill; on Monday the Minnesota Senate passed an $11 billion transportation bill, leaving the two chambers $4 billion apart.
But behind the scenes, there’s disagreement on a proposal to allow larger trucks on Minnesota’s roads, a change that proponents argue could save money by requiring fewer overall truck trips. The current maximum load for a semi-trailer truck in Minnesota is 80,000 pounds.
Backers of the plan would like to see that increased to allow six-axle trucks with 90,000 pound limits and allow seven-axle trucks to haul up to 97,000 pounds. Exceptions allowing larger trucks in Minnesota have been in place since 2008 for two uses: unprocessed agricultural products and timber.
The House of Representatives’ bill includes a provision that would expand the law for all agricultural uses and also include construction materials. But the Senate version that was passed Monday does not include any allowance for larger trucks.
“The language is in the House bill, and it’s not in the Senate bill,” says Fred Corrigan, executive director of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota, which supports the change to allow bigger trucks. “This is a commodity state. This should be a slam dunk for a state like Minnesota that hauls a lot of commodities.”
According to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, there were 2,867 larger trucks with permits in Minnesota in 2014. According to the breakdown, 1,980 of those were for agriculture and 887 were for timber.
Six-axle trucks pay an additional annual permit fee of $300; seven-axle trucks pay a fee of $500. In the grand scheme of transportation funding fights in Minnesota, the truck fees are not a huge windfall for the state.
Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), an author the House bill, says that during discussions of the issue, they heard testimony that larger trucks could save contractors 2 to 4 percent on construction jobs.
“There’s really a huge savings. It’s a more efficient process for the trucking,” says McNamara.
Will it make the final version of the transportation bill? “We’re hopeful it will be included,” says McNamara.
Minnesota is not the only battleground in the war over truck weights.
“There’s been a pushback from the general freight community, the Teamsters and the rail community. It’s a huge national issue, actually,” says Corrigan.
Corrigan says that at this point, the fate of the issue is up to legislative leaders: “We’re now in the hands of the giants.”
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, which commissioned an in-depth study of the issue in 2006, is opposed to the current proposal to change the law. MnDOT Director of Communications Kevin Gutknecht tells Twin Cities Business that the department is waiting for a comprehensive federal study on the issue.
“At this time, MnDOT opposes any increases in commercial truck weight until the federal study is completed and an attendant safety issues have been addressed,” said Gutknecht in an email.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is “neutral” on the bill, according to spokesman Jim Pumarlo.
According to a timeline on U.S. Department of Transportation’s web site, the federal study is already overdue: The technical reports were slated to be completed last fall and the deadline for reporting to Congress was November 2014. Neither has happened yet.
Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) voted against the measure in committee this year, although he had supported the proposal in the past. Dibble says that county engineers across the state have raised safety concerns and he notes that MnDOT has also expressed caution. He adds that he thinks it makes sense to wait for the pending federal study.
“For all those reasons, it seemed prudent to pause a little bit here,” Dibble said.
A statement from the U.S. Department of Transportation emailed to Twin Cities Business does not offer a specific timetable for when the federal report will be finished: “The Federal Highway Administration conducted the Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study called for in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) to address the safety risks, infrastructure impacts and enforcement issues associated with trucks operating in excess of current size and weight limits. We are currently finalizing a series of technical reports requiring extensive research in each of these areas. The technical reports will be released in the upcoming months prior to the final comprehensive report. It is a top priority for the agency to ensure the study is transparent, objective and data-driven.”