Bill that would increase truck weights on Georgia roads clears first hurdle

A bill that would allow heavier trucks on Georgia highways cleared a state House committee Thursday. (AJC file photo)

A bill that would allow heavier trucks on Georgia highways cleared a state House committee Thursday. (AJC file photo)

A bill that would raise the maximum weight of trucks on Georgia highways cleared a state House committee Thursday.

The current maximum weight of trucks allowed under Georgia law is 80,000 pounds — although a pandemic-related waiver has allowed some trucks to weigh up to 95,000 pounds. House Bill 189 would allow trucks of up to 90,000 pounds on the road on a permanent basis.

Supporters of the proposal say raising the limit would aid manufacturers and agribusinesses, saving them money by allowing them to transport products with fewer trips. They say their competitors in other states operate at higher maximum weights, giving them an advantage.

“We see it purely from an economic standpoint as putting us on an even playing field with other states,” Jake Matthews of the Georgia Farm Bureau told the House Transportation Committee.

Opponents — including the Georgia Department of Transportation and more than 100 local government officials — say heavier trucks will be deadlier when they collide with smaller vehicles. And they say the bigger trucks will mean more wear and tear on local roads.

“If this bill passes, I guarantee you that local government officials like myself … are going to get more calls from citizens complaining about closed bridges, potholes and road conditions,” Lamar County Commissioner Nancy Thrash told the committee.

Federal rules prohibit trucks greater than 80,000 pounds on interstate highways. But Georgia law governs the weight of trucks on state and local roads.

The state limits truck weights to 80,000 pounds, but it permits a 5% variance for trucks carrying certain agricultural and natural resource products. That means some trucks weighing up to 84,000 pounds are allowed.

Agricultural and forest products groups have pushed to raise truck weights for years. They cite higher agricultural variances in neighboring states. Alabama, for example, allows some trucks weighing up to 88,000 pounds on its roads. The South Carolina maximum is 90,000 for some trucks.

In 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp approved a waiver for some trucks to weigh up to 95,000 pounds, and he has renewed it since then. The measure is intended to address supply-chain issues brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

HB 189 would raise the maximum weight for all trucks — not just those carrying agricultural products — to 90,000 pounds.

Past proposals to increase truck weights in Georgia have gone nowhere because of safety and road maintenance concerns.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, there were 256 fatalities in the state involving commercial motor vehicles in 2022 — up from 118 in 2018. Safety advocates say increasing the truck weight would lead to more fatalities.

What’s more, if HB 189 passes, Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle said GDOT will have to immediately post load restrictions on 1,408 bridges that couldn’t handle the larger trucks — double the current number of posted bridges.

That will mean the larger trucks will have to follow long detours to get to a bigger highway — costing companies time and putting more wear and tear on roads.

In the long term, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said state and local governments would need to spend billions of dollars more on road maintenance — money that would not be available to expand the state’s road network.

“I’ve been asked many times what keeps me up at night,” McMurry said. “Since HB 189 came out, I’m not sleeping well.”

During 5 1/2 hours of testimony, some legislators expressed concern about the safety and financial considerations of raising the truck weight.

“I don’t think this is something our constituents are going to want,” said state Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville.

But a majority of committee members were sympathetic to the concerns of small business owners who testified.

“Those folks are the folks we work for,” said state Rep. James Burchett, R-Waycross.

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 18 to 11. It now goes to the House Rules Committee, which will determine whether it gets a vote by the full House.