Senate panel backs higher truck weights

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Bill would allow heavier trucks on Georgia roads for one year

A state Senate panel Monday approved a bill that would temporarily allow some trucks to carry heavier loads on Georgia highways — and could pave the way for a plan to raise billions of dollars for road and rail improvements.

The latest version of House Bill 189 would allow trucks hauling forestry and agricultural products to carry heavier loads until July 1, 2024. That would give lawmakers time to strike a compromise that would permanently increase truck weights while addressing the concerns of critics who say heavier vehicles would mean more potholes and traffic fatalities.

The bill also would give lawmakers time to develop and sell a plan for billions of dollars of road and rail improvements to keep freight moving across the state. Some legislators have been discussing ways to raise the money, but a specific proposal has not materialized.

The measure passed the Senate Transportation Committee by a vote of 7-4.

HB 189 addresses an issue that has divided legislators and pitted some of the state’s largest industries against traffic safety advocates, local government officials and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Current law limits the maximum weight of trucks on Georgia roads to 80,000 pounds, though trucks carrying forestry, agricultural and some other products receive a variance that allows them to weigh up to 84,000 pounds.

To keep freight moving amid supply-chain problems during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Brian Kemp authorized trucks to weigh up to 95,000 pounds. But that authorization expired earlier this month. And forestry and agricultural businesses have pressed lawmakers to permanently raise the maximum weight.

Supporters say the move would help businesses that are facing high inflation and a shortage of truck drivers. They say higher truck weights would allow them to ship their goods more efficiently.

Critics say heavier trucks will lead to more traffic fatalities and cost taxpayers billions of dollars more for road and bridge maintenance.

HB 189 has sparked hours of debate, and the bill has morphed several times. The latest version would double the existing variance to 8,000 pounds for trucks carrying forestry and agricultural products. That means the maximum truck weight would rise to 88,000 pounds for those industries. But it would authorize the higher weight for only one year.

Under the bill, the higher weight would not apply to roads in metro Atlanta counties, and the federal government limits trucks on interstate highways to 80,000 pounds.

HB 189 also would allow local police to enforce weight restrictions on bridges. Currently, only the state Department of Public Safety can enforce such regulations. Representatives of local governments say the move would help ensure that heavy trucks don’t illegally cross bridges that GDOT has determined cannot support their weight.

The one-year sunset on higher truck weights could allow legislators to find a permanent compromise on an issue that has divided the General Assembly. It could also give them time to develop plans to address a related issue: how to pay for billions of dollars of road and rail improvements needed to accommodate a 30% increase in freight in Georgia by 2045. Two years ago a study committee recommended Georgia raise up to $1.5 billion a year to pay for such improvements.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said he expects legislators to discuss specific freight funding plans after this legislative session ends.

“We have the fastest-growing port in the nation,” Gooch said. “We have to improve our infrastructure. And it has to start with the people in this room.”

The lack of such funding led Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, to vote against HB 189 on Monday.

“Unless we get serious about funding infrastructure projects, I’m going to vote ‘no,’ ” Mallow said.

HB 189 now goes to the Rules Committee, which will determine whether it gets a vote by the full Senate.