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THEIR VIEW: In pursuit of truck-weight consistency in Minnesota

What's likely an under-the-radar issue for many Minnesotans opens a window on some important public policy questions. The push and pull over truck weight limits involves government regulation and business efficiency, highway infrastructure, publi...

What’s likely an under-the-radar issue for many Minnesotans opens a window on some important public policy questions.

The push and pull over truck weight limits involves government regulation and business efficiency, highway infrastructure, public safety and the ways federal, state and local roads connect in our complex highway transportation system.

It’s also a lingering issue that’s hung up in the state’s thorny transportation funding debate. State lawmakers left St. Paul in May without agreeing on a package.

Advocates point out that Minnesota’s truck-weight limits are out of line with those of neighboring states, harming our ability to compete. With a few exceptions, the current maximum load for semi-trailer trucks in Minnesota is 10-tons per “properly spaced axle,” up to 80,000 pounds gross weight on five-axle trucks, according to Fred Corrigan, executive director of the Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota.

The current proposal would add gravel, sand and other construction and demolition materials to the list of items - now including agricultural products and timber - that are allowed to be hauled at higher weights. Trucks with six axles could carry 90,000 pounds and those with seven axles 97,000 pounds.

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They might haul more, but their length wouldn’t change from the current 53 feet, Corrigan emphasizes.

Advocates brought this example to a recent editorial board meeting: The Metrodome demolition resulted in the hauling of nearly 50,000 truckloads of material from the site in downtown Minneapolis. A truck-weight increase would have cut 7,500 truckloads and the resulting wear and tear on roads and damage to air quality.

“There’s a huge economic savings,” House chief author Rep. Denny McNamara told us, “especially on jobs that are intense, where a lot of product is moving by truck, including jobs like overlay of blacktop.”

That translates into savings on road construction, according to the Republican from Hastings.

Proposed changes would apply to “10-ton” county and state roads, so-called based on the heft of the vehicles they can accommodate.

Voices of opponents - they include MnDOT and Gov. Mark Dayton - also are being heard in the debate.

From the perspective of the Minnesota Association of Counties, there’s opposition “until there’s funding available to build out the 10-ton highway system and bring deficient bridges up to appropriate safety standards,” its executive director, Julie Ring, told us.

Until we get that done, she said, “We don’t think that the current transportation system can accommodate” heavier trucks.

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Changes, says Edward Reynoso, political director of Minneapolis-based Teamsters Joint Council 32, would take volume off of the federal highway system and put it onto our state highways, adding to the deterioration.

Differences also include the effects changes might have on drivers’ jobs and public safety aspects of the issue. More axles add braking capacity, those in favor of an increase told us.

On the other side, “a lot of these state highways have signals; they have stops” where trucks mix with other traffic, Reynoso said. “There’s no question in my mind that it would take a longer distance to stop in emergency situations.”

Representatives of both sides referred us to a June 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation study to support their contentions.

As we tackle the issues - including jobs and the vital movement of goods into, out of and around Minnesota, we confront “the challenge that all these roads interconnect,” Ring said. “All the players have to be at the table discussing how the roads fit together.”

In what amounts to a worthy debate, Minnesota businesses and the state’s economic vitality are depending on them.

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