Capitol Beat News Service
Legislation to increase the limit on commercial truck weights in Georgia cleared a state House committee Thursday over the objections of local government officials, traffic safety advocates, and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The House Transportation Committee approved the bill 18-11 following an afternoon-long hearing that lasted more than five hours.
House Bill 189 would raise the legal limit on commercial truck weights in Georgia from 80,000 pounds to 90,000.
In reality, trucks weighing up to 95,000 pounds already are being allowed in the Peach State under an emergency order Gov. Brian Kemp signed nearly three years ago at the beginning of the pandemic, said Rep. Steven Meeks (R-178, Screven), the bill’s chief sponsor.
While truck weights have been a contentious issue the General Assembly has debated for years, supporters said the three years of experience with the emergency order are good reason to approve higher truck weights permanently.
“We’ve been doing this,” former Georgia Rep. Chad Nimmer, a board member at the Georgia Forestry Association, told the committee. “We’re at a unique time because we have evidence now.”
A coalition of Georgia’s agriculture and timber industries support the bill.
Will Bentley, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, said the proposed increases in truck weights would let farmers move their products on fewer trucks, saving 172,000 truck trips per year, according to a University of Georgia study.
Fewer truck trips translate into savings for local businesses, said Toby McDowell, who runs a logging company in Butts County.
“I’m one of the few people who can say the pandemic saved my business,” he said.
McDowell said his company was struggling before Kemp’s executive order allowed him to reduce the number of trucks he uses to haul logs from nine to five while carrying the same amount of freight.
But local government officials said the legislation would damage local roads and bridges that rural cities and counties on tight budgets would be hard pressed to repair.
“Rural counties have a hard time keeping our roads maintained,” said Nancy Thrasher, a county commissioner in Lamar County. “I guarantee you local government officials … are going to get more calls from citizens complaining about closed bridges [and] potholes.”
Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry said his agency would be forced to redirect funds from critical highway projects to repair the damage the legislation would cause.
He put price tags on what House Bill 189 would cost GDOT: $500 million a year to rebuild state roads that would be damaged because of the higher truck weights and $7 billion to replace 1,408 bridges that would be posted as unsafe for heavier trucks.
McMurry said the projected growth of freight traffic in Georgia will more than offset any reduction in the number of trucks on the highways that would be possible with heavier trucks.
“More weight will not take trucks off the roads,” he said. “More freight is coming.”
Other opponents of the bill brought up safety concerns. Atlanta businessman Steve Owings founded the organization Road Safe America after his 22-year-old son was killed in 2002 when his car was rear-ended by a fully loaded tractor trailer that was speeding.
“This is exactly the wrong direction,” Owings said of House Bill 189. “If anything, we should be looking for ways to make trucks safer in Georgia.”
The bill now moves to the House Rules Committee to schedule a vote on the House floor.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.