The N.C. General Assembly is moving forward on legislation to allow bigger trucks on primary highways statewide — replacing a 48-foot limit on most roads with permission for 53-foot tractor-trailers. Senate Bill 1695 won approval 47-0 yesterday, including nods from local Sens. Martin Nesbitt and Tom Apodaca. The approval came despite opposition from the N.C. Highway Patrol, as quoted in coverage by WRAL.com of Raleigh: “When you allow heavier vehicles to travel on the highway, and when you allow longer vehicles to travel on the highway, you do see an increase in traffic collisions involving those type of vehicles,” Patrol spokesman Lt. Everett Clendenin said. “So, we know there will be an increase in traffic collisions.”
The Senate bill now moves to the House, where it was originally paired with HB 2408, currently in the House Transportation Committee. According to Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County, her “initial reaction” would be to oppose the bill because of present difficulties keeping highways safe and in good repair. “However,” she told Xpress by e-mail, “I will be listening carefully to the debate of this bill and in the meantime will look closely at the amendments that were included in the Senate version just passed unanimously to see if they adequately address potential pitfalls.”
Provision was added to the Senate bill to allow proposals from state transportation safety experts to exempt specific roads, but according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, final approval of such road exemptions lies with a legislative oversight committee chaired by Sen. Clark Jenkins of Edgecome County, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. The N&O article cites a Public Policy Polling telephone survey this week that found just 15 percent of North Carolinians in favor of the bigger trucks on most state roads. But it quotes Charlie Diehl, president of the N.C. Trucking Association, as supporting the provision as “more productive than the antiquated 48-foot trailers,” which would mean “fewer trucks on the road.”
Other provisions in the bill include authorization for 18-year-olds holding a Class C license to operate noncommercial vehicles between 5 and 13 tons in weight, and increasing tonnage allowed for trucks hauling logs.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor