BOISE – Despite opposition from numerous North Idaho elected officials, an Idaho Senate committee on Thursday narrowly approved legislation to allow extra-heavy trucks on roads statewide.
Under the bill, proposed by the Idaho Forest Group in Coeur d’Alene, extra-heavy trucks – up to 129,000 pounds – would be allowed anywhere the roads can handle them. The current limit on truck weights in Idaho is 105,500 pounds, except on 35 southern Idaho routes where a 10-year pilot project has allowed the heavier semitrucks, which typically have triple trailers.
Local highway jurisdictions, such as cities, counties or highway districts, would decide whether specific roads can handle the additional weight.
“I’m disappointed,” said state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who fought hard against the proposal, but was outvoted in the Senate Transportation Committee by one vote.
State Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, led the move to approve the bill, backed by state Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston.
Stuart Davis, executive director of the Idaho Association of Highway Districts, said he doesn’t think there’s enough data to support the plan.
But Nonini said, “I don’t think we have time to wait and lay out a pilot project, in the light of the closing of mills and what few mills are left up there.”
Benewah County Commissioner Phil Lampert spoke out against the bill, telling the senators there are safety concerns with the plan. “The terrain is quite a bit different up there,” he said. Lampert described parts of U.S. Highway 95 to the Senate committee and said, “Going downhill, you’d better hope their brakes work.”
Backers of extra-heavy trucks have spent more than a decade building support for their use on the designated routes in southern Idaho, Keough noted. They’ve addressed local concerns and worked with industry and the state to iron out the details – all while promising never to seek heavy-truck routes in North Idaho, with its mountainous, twisting roads and much wetter climate.
Prior to the committee’s 5-4 vote to approve SB 1117, it voted unanimously to pass another bill to make the southern Idaho pilot project permanent.
Both that bill, SB 1064, and SB 1117 now move to the full Senate for debate.
Matt Van Vleet, vice president for communication and public affairs for Clearwater Paper Corp. in Lewiston, said his company employs 1,270 people and “transportation costs are extremely important to us.” Bigger loads could mean significant savings for Clearwater Paper, he said.
Jim Riley, representing Idaho Forest Group, told the committee that properly configured trucks could operate without compromising public safety.
Opponents either testifying against the bill or submitting letters against it ranged from mayors, county commissioners and sheriffs to AAA of Idaho.
Dover Mayor Randy Curless said extra-heavy trucks will damage local roads that his small city can’t to afford to fix. “I think all the roads are short on adequate funding,” he told the senators. “Locally, I don’t think we can come up with the money.”