Divided House approves heavier trucks for Georgia highways

Bill would allow some trucks up to 88,000 pounds

A divided Georgia House approved a bill Monday that would allow heavier trucks on state highways.

State law currently limits commercial vehicles 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.

House Bill 189 would expand that variance to 10% — meaning some trucks weighing up to 88,000 pounds could travel on state highways and local roads.

Proponents said allowing heavier trucks will let businesses deliver their goods more efficiently and compete more effectively with their counterparts in neighboring states that already allow heavier trucks.

“Are we here to grow Georgia or are we just going to stop?” said Rep. James Burchett, R-Waycross. “We want to grow. We don’t want to stymie the growth of our economy.”

Opponents said heavier trucks will make Georgia highways more dangerous and take a greater toll on roads, costing taxpayers billions of dollars more for maintenance.

“This bill is destructive for roads, but especially for county roads and bridges,” said Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville. “These communities do not have the resources to maintain or continue to fix road abuse.”

Federal law limits trucks to 80,000 pounds on interstate highways. But forestry and agricultural businesses have been pressing for higher truck weights on state and local routes for years.

They caught a break in 2020 when Gov. Brian Kemp authorized trucks up to 95,000 pounds on state highways in an emergency order designed to address supply-chain problems during the coronavirus pandemic. Kemp has repeatedly renewed the order, though it is set to expire again Monday.

HB 189 originally would have allowed all commercial vehicles to weigh up to 90,000 pounds. The bill passed the House Transportation Committee, but the Rules Committee twice sent it back to the transportation panel for more work.

The latest version cleared the Rules Committee on Monday. It applies only to businesses that already get the 5% variance.

The bill has sparked opposition from the Georgia Department of Transportation and organizations representing local cities and counties. They say heavier trucks will mean greater wear and tear on roads. GDOT says about 1,200 state bridges could not safely support trucks weighing 88,000 pounds and would have to be restricted.

Opponents say higher trucks weights also would lead to more traffic fatalities. Fatalities involving commercial vehicles are already on the rise.

“If this bill passes, our taxes will be higher, our roads will be less safe,” said Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna.

Proponents say businesses are suffering from high inflation and a shortage of truck drivers. They say higher maximum truck weights will allow them to control costs and remain competitive.

“It’s important that we take steps in the right direction to help them out,” said Rep. Steven Meeks, R-Screven.

The House approved HB 189 on a 93-81 vote. It now goes to the state Senate, which heard testimony on a similar bill but took no action.