Idaho panel backs extra-heavy trucks statewide

BOISE – An Idaho House committee has approved legislation that could open any non-freeway route in the state to extra-heavy trucks of up to 129,000 pounds, over the objections of the two North Idaho lawmakers on the panel; the bill now moves to the full House.

Reps. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, both opposed the bill. Pushed by Idaho Forest Group, the measure followed another bill to make permanent a decade-long southern Idaho pilot project allowing the heavier trucks on 35 designated routes.

“I would never like to be seen as someone that stands in opposition to progress, but I think that for progress to be successful we have to be ready for it, and I think that we really are not ready for this,” Ringo said. “We studied those experimental routes in southeast Idaho for quite some time.”

Federal law bans the extra-heavy trucks on interstate freeways.

Opponents of the measure, including the state associations of counties and highway districts, worked with the bill’s sponsors over the weekend and proposed a slew of amendments Monday to clarify that local jurisdictions wouldn’t be forced to approve the extra-heavy trucks on their local roads against their will. But Jim Riley, speaking for Idaho Forest Group, told the House Transportation Committee that rather than amend the bill, SB 1117, he’d prefer to pass it as-is and leave the amendments to a separate “trailer bill” that would follow after it.

Henderson said, “I voted no because the trailer bill represents what my constituents in the 3rd District wanted. It takes out any ambiguities.”

Though there’s no guarantee that the additional bill – which hasn’t yet been introduced - will get through both houses of the Legislature this late in the session, Henderson said he has confidence that it will, “because I think people like Ken McClure and that group are people of their word.”

McClure, son of the late U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, is a Statehouse lobbyist who along with Riley represented bill’s sponsors on Monday.

Two days of hearings on the bill drew strong objections from North Idaho residents, officials, truckers and others.

“I have not talked to a single person in the transportation industry that is for this because of the safety concerns,” said Wally Burchak, part-owner of KBC Trucking in Kooskia.

Former state Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, told the committee, “Up in North Idaho, most of our roads are two-lane, narrow roads. … There’s 110 corners from St. Maries to Plummer, I’ve counted ‘em many times.”

Mark Benson of Potlatch Corp. told the panel his company would like to use the extra-heavy trucks to “move wood chips … along the Highway 95 corridor,” and Idaho Transportation Department officials confirmed that by their standards, Highway 95 through much of North Idaho would be eligible for the extra-heavy truck routing envisioned under the bill.

The measure says the 129,000-pound trucks could run on any road where the local highway jurisdiction says ITD’s engineering standards are met. If so, the bill says the local authorities “shall” issue permits for the trucks. The current truck-weight limit in Idaho is 105,500 pounds.

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