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Michigan road funding: Proposal to cut truck weight limits fails in state Senate

By Jonathan Oosting | joosting@mlive.com MLive.com

on December 02, 2014 at 2:14 PM, updated December 02, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Michigan Roads

LANSING, MI — The Michigan Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal that would have reduced the state’s highest-in-the-nation maximum weight limit for trucks.

Some say Michigan’s 164,000-pound gross weight limit — which is more than double the federal standard of 80,000 pounds — is causing unnecessary damage to Michigan roads.

But others, including the Michigan Department of Transportation, say the state actually minimizes wear by requiring large loads to be evenly distributed over multiple axles.

“This bill is well intentioned but it’s not ripe yet," said Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, who voted against the measure. "The facts have not been established."

Senate Bill 1150, shot down in a 22-15 vote, would have reduced Michigan’s maximum weight limits for trucks to 80,000 pounds, mirroring the national standards.

Sponsoring Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, suggested the proposal should be sent to the House for consideration as part of a larger discussion on long-term road funding. He said only 5 percent of trucks operating on Michigan roadways exceed 80,000 pounds.

The Senate last month approved a road funding package that included a major gas tax hike along with higher fines and fees for overweight or oversized trucks. Gov. Rick Snyder is urging the House to help finalize a solution this month.

“Time and time again, we hear this administration and this Senate majority leadership talk about shared sacrifice. Bringing Michigan’s truck weight limits in line with those of other states is just that, shared sacrifice,” said Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit.

“Overweight trucks do more damage to Michigan roads than your average passenger cars, so they should pay more to fix them, or at least be brought into the same weight limits as other states.”

MDOT has said that current weight limits are not necessarily responsible for excessive road wear because of the state’s unique regulations for weight distribution.

A truck weighing 164,000 pounds can freely operate in Michigan only if it features 11 separate axles, each carrying 13,000 pounds. Under federal rules, trucks that weigh 80,000 pounds can carry 17,000 pounds each on four axles and 12,000 pounds on a steering axle.

“The alternative to a single Michigan combination carrying 160,000 lbs. on 11 axles is two standard trucks carrying 160,000 pounds on 10 axles,” according to an MDOT memo published last year.

“Pavement research has shown that these two smaller trucks actually cause about 60 percent more pavement damage than does the single heavier truck, because of their higher axle loadings and the extra weight of an additional tractor at about ten tons.”

The truck weight legislation could still be reconsidered at a later date, but for now, it remains stuck in the upper chamber. Tuesday’s vote fell mostly along party lines, with three Republicans joining all 12 Democrats in support.

Jonathan Oosting is a Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group.