Loggers protest weight limits on Minnesota interstates (with video)
A convoy of about 70 logging trucks, many of them fully loaded, rumbled through downtown Duluth on Thursday morning to make a point -- that heavy trucks should be allowed on Minnesota's interstate highway system, rather than being forced to used ...
A convoy of about 70 logging trucks, many of them fully loaded, rumbled through downtown Duluth on Thursday morning to make a point -- that heavy trucks should be allowed on Minnesota's interstate highway system, rather than being forced to used state highways and other alternate routes.
"Hopefully, this will be the event that pushes this issue over the finish line in Washington," said Scott Dane, executive director of the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers, which organized the convoy and a 9:30 a.m. rally at Road Machinery & Supplies Co. along Garfield Avenue.
The issue is that federal regulations limit truck weights to 80,000 pounds on the interstate system within Minnesota. Truckers like to haul as big a load as possible behind their semitrailers, saving on diesel fuel and making fewer and quicker trips from the woods to the mill. The preferred system is a six-axle truck carrying 90,000 pounds or more of wood.
The federal government has given other states permission allowing loads heavier than 80,000 pounds on their interstate highways. Efforts over the past three years to gain that permission for Minnesota have failed amid stubborn opposition, including from competing railroads.
After the rally, one of the truckers drove onto Interstate 35. He was spotted by a Minnesota State Patrol commercial vehicle inspector, who ticketed the trucker after using a portable scale to confirm that the truck was overweight.
"We knew about the rally, but we had no details going on; we weren't going to do that," said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Charles Lemon. "But we're still out and about, and if a truck comes on the interstate weighing more than the amount that is allowed, we have to act. They did it to themselves at that point."
County, state and federal elected officials attending Thursday's rally pledged to continue working to gain the needed federal action for heavy loads.
The 8th District is three things -- timber, taconite and tourism, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., told the audience.
"We need heavy trucks to get it done," said Cravaack, who sponsored legislation that would have changed the law for Minnesota.
Restricting truckers in Minnesota to lighter loads on the interstate than they can carry on state and local highways makes no sense and makes Minnesota less competitive, he said.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., wasn't able to attend the rally, but Jerry Fallos, her regional outreach director, read a message from the senator. In it, she pledged to continue pushing for an increase in truck weights.
"It's the right decision for safety and it's the right decision for our economy," the message concluded.
The potential safety problems of loaded logging trucks having to use city streets was a common theme among Thursday's speakers. Some of the convoy's trucks bore signs reading "LET US ON THE FREEWAY FOR SAFETY."
There are five issues in question here, St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg said at the rally. "The first three are safety, safety, safety."
It is "nuts" that the federal government forces loaded logging trucks to drive through the city, he said.
The fourth and fifth issues Dahlberg identified were fuel savings and "jobs, jobs, jobs."
Logging interests already have secured exemptions for interstate freeways in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Idaho, Dane said. Michigan allows trucks of all types up to 120,000 pounds. Minnesota lawmakers have not succeeded in getting an exemption passed for their state.
Opponents say allowing loggers to carry heavier loads on interstates opens the doors for all industries to demand bigger, heavier trucks. Highway safety organizations say big trucks often are less safe on freeways with passenger cars.