BOISE – The Idaho Senate on Friday approved legislation allowing trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds to run on Idaho interstates, after Congress gave Idaho the go-ahead for that in December.
Idaho senators uncharacteristically heaped praise on Congress in their debate.
“This is unique legislation. Rather than taking power away from the states, this federal legislation enacted last December returns power to the states,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, adding, “Let me repeat that.”
Stirring controversy in recent years, Idaho lawmakers have authorized trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds on more state and local routes, but they still weren’t allowed on interstate freeways.
Washington limits truck weights on freeways to 105,500; Montana is at 129,000 pounds, and Wyoming, 117,000.
Brackett said the congressional action was “a long time coming.” Congress in 1991 froze truck weight limits on interstates at their then-current levels; that put Idaho at 105,500 pounds, while neighboring Montana, Utah and Nevada were at 129,000.
“It created a patchwork of different weights across the nation,” Brackett said. “Since 1991, the only way to increase the weight of trucks on the interstate system is to request that Congress amend the federal law. … Many states have requested changes in the law, some successful and others not. Idaho is one of a handful of states that’s successfully gotten Congress to change the law.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said he would have preferred the change on interstates before the increase on the state and local roads.
“I would’ve had a lot more comfort with that bill if this one had come first. I think this is a step in the right direction, and I’ll be supporting it,” Schmidt said.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she’s conflicted about the bill, and disclosed a conflict of interest due to her “day job” with the Associated Logging Contractors, who are involved in trucking.
“It actually would be better to have these trucks on the federal highways, which are built to a higher standard and have more room, shoulders, chain-up areas and escape ramps and the like,” Keough said. “So in that regard it’s good.
“The conflict comes for me in that we still have a ways to go in addressing safety issues,” she said.
Keough said as many as 1 in 5 trucks that come through the Lewiston port of entry into North Idaho are put out of service for safety issues.
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said his wife has been in “more than one vehicle accident where she was hit by a semi,” to the point she’ll no longer drive on the freeway. He said higher weights mean more freight can be hauled with fewer trucks.
“We get up to one of every five trucks off the roads,” he said. “This is something that helps our citizens. It doesn’t just help move loads, it helps make our citizens safer.”
The Senate voted 31-3 in favor of the proposal; it still needs House passage plus the governor’s signature to become law.
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