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Commercial truckers want the ability to haul heavier loads over county and local roads, and they're hoping a measure that obliges them will speed through the Legislature in its last week.
House and Senate lawmakers are considering authorizing new permits that allow commercial trucks to increase their weight loads by as much as 10 percent above the current limit on non-Interstate roads.
The House amended its version of the bill Friday afternoon and rolled it over to a third reading, but did not hold a final vote.
A representative of a major trucking lobbyist group said the trucking industry needs a weight expansion to cut high fuel costs and stay stable in a bad economy.
Were trying to keep as many trucking companies in business as we can, said Matthew Ubben, a lobbyist with the Florida Trucking Association.
The legislation, attached to House and Senate omnibus transportation bills HB 1271 and SB 2362, paves the way for the Florida Department of Transportation to create rules for expanding commercial truck weight limits from 80,000 pounds to 88,000 pounds on certain routes.
Under the new permits, trucks would only be able to haul the higher weight limits along designated routes on non-Interstate roads. The FDOT already permits some exceptions to the weight limits for certain purposes. The new legislation represents a major expansion.
The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, authorizes permits for any commercial truck. The House version, sponsored by Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, originally only applied to agricultural trucks but was broadened Friday to include any commercial truck.
When trucking companies are allowed to carry more cargo, Ubben said, they send out fewer trucks and spend less on gas -- important considerations for companies looking for ways to survive the current recession.
The ability to reduce costs while being able to respond to our customers demands is what is going to help us, he said.
FDOT spokesman Dick Kane said that if the legislation is approved the department would look at existing roads and work with the trucking industry to find routes on which they could haul heavier loads.
Gardiner said that authorizing the weight limit permits has benefits that are both practical and economical.
If you can carry more weight, you can get more trucks off the road, he said. "But it also makes us more competitive.
He said Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi have raised their trucking weight limits, thus giving them an edge over Florida.
This is the second time in two years the trucking industry has tried to get weight limit expansions passed. It failed last year and during an attempt a decade ago when the FDOT discussed allowing limits of 96,000 pounds.
Curtis Sloan, a member of the national Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, said its state member, the Florida Coalition for Safe Highways, is fighting to block the legislation.
Allowing trucks to haul more weight is dangerous and damaging to local roads, he said. Heavier weights make it harder for trucks to accelerate and stop, which can cause accidents, he said. In addition, local roads arent equipped to handle trucks with heavier loads and there is no provision in the bill to make trucking companies pay for damages.
Eight-thousand pounds is a significant increase without any safety increase, he said.
Ubben said that trucks have technology to prevent more accidents and that truckers are being certified in driver-education courses to make the trucking industry safe and secure.
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