Georgia lawmakers pass law raising weight limits for big-rig cargo

The agricultural and forestry trucking industry scored a major victory last week in the waning minutes of the 2023 Georgia legislative session with the passage of a law that increases their freight load capacity.

The bickering between some House and Senate lawmakers over raising the size of truckloads permitted on Georgia’s state and local roads through House Bill 189 was eventually resolved by a joint committee of lawmakers. The compromise came just in time for the bill to meet the Day 40 deadline for bills to clear both chambers. The attention will eventually turn toward finding a long-term solution to the extensive funding needed to maintain the same state roadways and bridges that deteriorate more rapidly as massive tractor trailers bump along them.

Under the new regulations, trucks carrying food, timber and other agricultural and forestry commodities can weigh as much as 88,000 pounds. It’s a 4,000-pound increase from the state maximum that recently reverted back after the expiration of a three-year moratorium that let truckers carrying some of the state’s top agricultural products to be as large as 95,000 pounds without risk of incurring a fine.

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The final version includes a July 1, 2025, sunset date. It also gives local police the authority to enforce the law and cite trucks that exceed the legal limit. But local officials won’t be able to use the money from the fines to purchase truck scales or for road maintenance. Instead, the legislation requires the money to be sent to the state.

The Senate passed the truck weight bill by a 37-16 vote shortly after midnight Thursday, minutes after a tighter 95-75 passage in the House chamber.

Rep. Teri Anuelwicz, a Smyrna Democrat, said while the bill lets local police issue citations to rule breakers, it also unfairly requires the fines to be sent to the state.

“This is simply a toothless bill that serves to encourage a culture of forgiveness versus permission when it comes to enforcing these truck weights,” she said as legislators cast their votes.

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Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, said that his committee insisted on having an expiration date in order to ensure that the vested parties work together to bridge the gap of billions of dollars needed to repair, repave and rebuild Georgia’s roadways.

The compromise truck weight plan was recommended by a conference committee of six House and Senate lawmakers who met Wednesday to hash out disagreements between the chambers. The measure also limits the distance that the heavier laden trucks can travel to a 150-mile radius from the site that the trailers are loaded.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Georgia loggers and farmers welcomed Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive orders for larger loads that they said became a lifeline for the businesses by shaving off significant transportation expenses.

The push to allow heftier trucking loads drew strong opposition because the vehicles are more likely to tip over and are harder to slow down, thereby putting passenger vehicles at risk.

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Georgia Department of Transportation officials said the initial bill that included commercial vehicles of any type was a reckless plan. The agency estimated that it would double the number of bridges that trucks carrying excessive loads would not be allowed to cross.

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