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Extra-heavy rigs to lumber on Idaho highways

BOISE – Extra-heavy trucks could roll on North Idaho highways under controversial legislation that passed the Idaho House on Friday and headed to the governor’s desk.

The extra-heavy trucks – 129,000 pounds instead of the usual limit of 105,500 pounds – have been allowed in southern Idaho on 35 designated routes in a 10-year pilot project. This week, lawmakers declared that pilot project a success and made it permanent.

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, pleaded with the House to reject the bill.

“My concerns center around safety,” Agidius said. “Last week, many loggers, truckers and county commissioners came to the transportation hearings to try to explain what a bad idea this is. … They reminded us of all the severe geographical differences we have in the northern parts of the state, and what it’s like when a big truck jackknifes on a narrow, icy road because they cannot control their trailers.”

But she was outvoted 49-18, and some North Idaho lawmakers spoke out in favor of the bill.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said the bill lets local road jurisdictions, like cities, counties and highway districts, decide for themselves whether to let the extra-heavy trucks run on their local roads, but rightly leaves the decision about state routes – like U.S. Highway 95 – to the Idaho Transportation Department.

U.S. 95, however, runs through the center of numerous North Idaho towns and cities.

“The city of Moscow has weighed in, and they would not like to see these heavy trucks rumbling through downtown Moscow,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, a backer of the bill and former House transportation committee chairwoman, said she couldn’t believe that big trucks would choose to go through the center of towns. “Even in the little town that I live in, we have a truck route that goes around the town,” she said.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, responded, “We don’t have truck routes in Sandpoint. We don’t have ’em in Laclede, we don’t have ’em in Priest River.  … Bonners Ferry doesn’t have a truck route, either.” He said, “These state highways go right through the middle of towns.”

Wood, who is from southeastern Idaho, noted that the bill was proposed by Coeur d’Alene-based Idaho Forest Group.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I know that Potlatch and Clearwater Paper and Idaho Forest Products all want it, but I have heard no one who was not associated with those companies have anything good to say about it.”

County commissioners, mayors, highway officials, truckers and others from North Idaho traveled to Boise to testify against the bill during committee hearings in both houses.

Agidius urged the House, “Let’s say no to this bill. Let’s write a different bill that lets the great agricultural businesses that we have in southern Idaho try more routes, but let’s also write something that doesn’t have the potential to cost lives in North Idaho.”