Highway with truck and car in opposite lanes
Credit: Pexels

Georgia lawmakers are watering down a bill to allow heavier trucks on state highways after widespread opposition to the original measure by state and local officials.

Rep. Steven Meeks, a Screven Republican, described the changes as "just really paring this back to agriculture and forestry."

The House Transportation Committee voted 12-7 on Wednesday to allow heavier weight limits for trucks carrying logging, farming and mining commodities.

The bill was also amended to allow some trucks to insert a third axle, which could allow for heavier dump trucks, for example, because weight limits are usually calculated based on the number of axles.

Trucks carrying those goods could now be as heavy as 90,000 pounds (40,800 kilograms), up from 84,000 pounds (38,102 kilograms) now. Other trucks would remain limited to 80,000 pounds, the same as the federal limit on interstate highways.

The amended House Bill 189 was sent back to the full House for more debate.

The committee had voted Feb. 9 to raise the limit on state roads to 90,000 pounds for all trucks. But the full House sent the bill back to committee to be revised, a sign that it lacked support. It's not clear if the changes will placate opponents.

Logging, farming and trucking groups have long been seeking the increase, saying they could save money by hauling the same amount of freight over fewer trips.

But the state Department of Transportation and city and county officials have opposed the move, saying heavier trucks would do more damage to highways and bridges. Local officials fear heavier trucks will cut through on local roads even where they are barred.

State Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry warned lawmakers that it could cost billions more to rebuild damaged state highways and to replace state bridges that wouldn't meet the new weight standard, suggesting Georgia might have to increase fuel taxes.

Opponents say that heavier trucks would also be less safe because the heavier a vehicle is, the longer distance it takes to stop.

Gov. Brian Kemp has been allowing heavy trucks that get special permits to haul up to 95,000 pounds (43,091 kilograms), under a supply chain emergency order that he has repeatedly renewed. The current order lasts through March 11.

Meeks said that 6,500 forestry trucks obtained permits last year to carry up to 95,000 pounds, compared to the millions of truck trips each year in the state.
"We have significantly pared back the number of vehicles that would be allowed to run under the weight limit," Meeks said.

The bill still contains higher fines for trucks that exceed weight limits and requires both the truck and trailer to be certified for the heavier weight, Meeks said.