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Commissioner's view: Heavier trucks mean more harm to roads, bridges, taxpayers

Minnesota’s roads and bridges need to be both dependable and safe. In turn, we currently have common-sense state and national standards on truck size and weight that protect our transportation infrastructure and help ensure our roads and bridges are safe for drivers.

Current law generally allows a truck to weigh up to 80,000 pounds on state roads, which mirrors long-established federal standards on federal and interstate roads. Of note, there are certain exceptions made to accommodate aspects of Minnesota’s economy, such as certain agriculture products, the logging industry, specific construction equipment, snow-removal equipment and other unique conditions.

I strongly support maintaining our current truck size and weight limits in Minnesota. Raising these limits would be a drastic policy shift and would further add to the deterioration of our roads, bridges, and infrastructure. There are also real safety concerns as heavier trucks take longer to stop and are involved in more fatal accidents.

However, there are several particular businesses that would like to raise the weight limits on all of Minnesota’s local roads so they can increase their per-trip profitability. They are pushing state legislation to allow heavier trucks on local roads in Minnesota up to 97,000 pounds.

While I appreciate good business sense, in this case, it is just not worth it to taxpayers or the traveling public.

There is considerable evidence that removing the current sensible weight limits would result in more wear and tear on our state roads, particularly bridges. The fact is that a bigger, 97,000-pound truck is a 97,000-pound truck, regardless of axles, when it comes to weight on bridges. All a bridge feels is total weight. Adding tons of weight on a bridge will shorten its lifespan, requiring additional dollars to be spent on infrastructure improvements.

In Minnesota, there were 1,613 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges as of December 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In addition, 11 percent of the state’s bridges reportedly are either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete,” up from 7.7 percent a decade ago. Ramsey County had the highest percentage in the state at 25 percent, and St. Louis County wasn’t far behind with 23 percent.

A study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that this type of increase would require an additional $50 billion nationally to rebuild or strengthen bridges. Increasing the current size and weight of trucks also would require more bridges in the state to be replaced, strengthened or posted — adding still more costs on both taxpayers and local governments.  

Can we really afford to be creating additional problems when our state and local budgets already are stretched to the breaking point?

In addition, I agree with the Minnesota State Patrol Troopers Association, which also believes we should not increase weight limits. Bigger trucks stop more slowly, are less stable, have more brake maintenance problems, and are less able to maintain consistent speeds. All of this results in more dangerous roads and significant negative consequences for motorists.

Trucks with additional size and weight are 11 percent more likely to be involved in fatal accidents on roadways than single-trailer trucks, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The severity of a crash is a matter of physics: When weight increases, so does the severity of accidents.

I hope the Legislature opposes heavier trucks on our roads — for the safety and condition of our roads and to save taxpayers’ dollars.

Randy Maluchnik of Chaska, Minn., is a Carver County commissioner.