Opponents of bringing Minnesota’s truck weight limits more into line with all of our neighboring states (and in line with the weights already permitted in Minnesota for timber and agriculture products) have created a scary boogeyman. You hear a lot of frightening rhetoric about the danger of, and potential damage from, “bigger trucks” on Minnesota roads.
Like most scary boogeymen, “bigger trucks” are a figment of the imagination.
Minnesota businesses are indeed advocating for allowing better, more balanced Minnesota trucks to haul more weight. They would do so using trucks that are exactly the same size (53 feet) permitted by state law, no bigger. Not one inch bigger. The trained and licensed professional drivers would also haul these slightly heavier loads using trucks with six or seven axles, which mean six or seven sets of brakes, so they would be safer than the trucks currently on the road.
Perhaps most importantly, a marginal increase in the truck weight limits would mean taking thousands of trucks off Minnesota highways. That means less traffic and less wear on our roads and bridges.
Think of last year’s Metrodome demolition project, in which nearly 50,000 truckloads of material were hauled out of downtown Minneapolis. Now factor in the proposed truck weight increase, and think of 7,500 fewer truckloads coming out of the state’s most populous city. And that’s just for one project out of thousands statewide.
In 2013, Hawkinson Construction in Grand Rapids completed dozens of road projects for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. On just one of those projects, the trucking costs were more than $360,000. With the proposed truck weight increase considered, the same job could’ve been done at a savings of over $100,000 to Minnesota taxpayers. Again, that’s one job out of thousands completed every year.
As opposed to citing hand-picked anecdotes from other states found somewhere on the Internet, advocates of the higher weight limits point to a comprehensive MnDOT study noting that the proposed increase in truck weights would in fact lead to a 37 percent reduction in road wear.
It’s a debate that is based in part on the harsh economic realities facing many Minnesota companies. Rail is sometimes an alternative for moving goods, but less than half of our state has access to rail. And the North Dakota oil boom has led to a scarcity of available space on rail lines.
Many companies with shipping needs turn to trucking, where there is a serious and growing shortage of qualified drivers. If you find a trucking company with capacity, you face the competitive disadvantage written into state law, as our next-door neighbors all allow loads heavier than the 80,000 pounds permitted in Minnesota. This means drivers of fully loaded trucks have to unload materials in Sioux Falls, Fargo, Superior and other border towns before crossing into Minnesota. It also means companies building their distribution centers on the other side of the Red or Mississippi rivers, and sending their related jobs out of our state.
So the advocates for this legislation are seeking a more level playing field, not only with our neighbors, but with other Minnesota industries who are already allowed to haul loads of up to 97,000 pounds on our roads and bridges. That’s been happening for years, without the catastrophic danger and irreparable road damage that has been perceived and predicted by opponents.
Minnesota needs to be able to compete economically in our region, and provide a sensible transportation solution that will create jobs and mean less wear on our roads due to fewer trucks on our highways.
No boogeyman required.
Fred Corrigan is executive director of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota, which represents dozens of Minnesota companies of all sizes. He serves as chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.
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