Nonsensical truck rules wrecking roads

Guest Editorial
For decades, while state residents complained about the abysmal state of Michigan’s roads — and politicians stuck their hands out to accept campaign donations from the likes of trucking billionaire Matty Maroun — trucking firms ground up state highways with little fear of being held accountable.

Capt. Harold Love, commander of the commercial vehicle enforcement division of the Michigan State Police, recently told the Detroit Free Press that the state could use 20 to 25 more officers to help look for violators.

And that’s just for starters. Right now there are only 105 officers statewide who look for violators. Michigan has 14 weigh stations, dozens of rest stops and other areas equipped with “pits” for portable scales, and about 40 other scales hidden beneath pavement.

But that effort is far short of what is needed to cover hundreds of miles of roads from overloaded trucks.
“Without that enforcement being out there, it’s pretty much a free-for-all,” Love said.

A major problem that state officials and the trucking industry have long dismissed is that the gross weight limit for trucks in Michigan is a pavement-crushing 164,000 pounds, more than double the federal limit and the highest in the nation.

Making a bad situation worse, as the Free Press reported, is that Michigan routinely allows firms to put far heavier trucks on the road for a laughable fee of just $50. In 2012, the Michigan Department of Transportation issued 6,992 special permits for trucks weighing more than 164,000 pounds, a Free Press investigation found. Of those nearly 7,000 permits, more than 2,800 of them were for trucks weighing 200,000 pounds or more.

For $50? That would have been a token amount in 1950, let alone today.

And despite claims from state officials and the trucking industry that spreading that additional weight over multiple axles reduces the wear and tear on state roads, the Free Press found that Michigan has never studied just how much road damage these heavy trucks cause each year.

Ohio has, and it doesn’t allow 164,000-pound behemoths on its roads. In 2009, the Free Press said, Ohio estimated overweight trucks with special permits do $144 million in damage to that state’s roads and bridges every year.

The Ohio Department of Transportation reportedly said “Increasing a single axle load by 20 percent … doubles the damage.” If that’s true — and Michigan has never studied the issue to know if it is — imagine what trucks double the weight of those allowed in Ohio do to our roads every day.

This is a scandal. If Gov. Rick Snyder is serious about spending $1.2 billion a year to improve state highways, getting truck weights under control must be the place to start.