Georgia Senate Transportation Committee hearing

Kathleen Bowen, Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) associate legislative director, explains why ACCG opposes Senate Bill 118 as Walker County Commission Chairman Shannon Whitfield prepares to testify at the Feb. 23 Georgia Senate Transportation Committee hearing.

Proposed legislation that would pave the way for heavier logging trucks on Georgia’s roads hit a roadblock after officials, including Walker County Commission Chairman Shannon Whitfield, opposed the bill.

Whitfield testified Feb. 23 before a Georgia Senate Transportation Committee hearing on Senate Bill 118, a proposal to allow vehicles hauling forest products to reach a total gross weight of up to 100,000 pounds on six axles. Current law allows forest products to be hauled on five axles up to 80,000 pounds with a variance of 5%.

S.B. 118 did not advance out of the Senate Transportation Committee; committee Chairman Frank Ginn created a subcommittee to analyze and research the bill between this legislative session, which ended March 31, and the next session, explained Joe Legge, Walker County public relations director.

“I’m hopeful the bill being sent to a subcommittee for further study is code for the bill is dead,” Whitfield said of the decision. “If not, I’m confident Sen. Mullis, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, will be able to help cities and counties in Northwest Georgia protect the public investment we’ve made in our road infrastructure.”

Whitfield, during the Feb. 23 hearing, cited concerns about the financial burden on taxpayers and the maintenance challenge to public works crews that the extra weight would cause.

“It costs us (Walker County) roughly $180,000 per centerline mile to resurface one mile of road, and with 674 miles (of county roads), if we’re able to pave 20 miles a year, that’s 33.7 years to pave every road in our county,” Whitfield told the committee, adding that he was also concerned about the maintenance of more than 3,000 water drainage culverts running under county roads.

Officials from the Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Department of Public Safety’s Motor Carrier Compliance Division, Association County Commissioners of Georgia and Georgia Municipal Association testified in opposition to the proposed bill. The president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association and an assistant professor of forest operations at the University of Georgia spoke in favor.

Concerns about the proposed bill included:

♦ Forty percent of Georgia bridges are 50 years or older, their design lifespan.

♦ Replacing bridges to accommodate the 100,000-pound limit will cost $1.5 billion; meanwhile, trucks this size are prohibited on federal interstate highways.

♦ Logging truck drivers are not subject to the hours-of-service rules other commercial truck drivers must obey to prevent fatigue while driving. Fatigue increases reaction time.

Supporters said the proposed change would make Georgia more economically competitive with other states, reduce the number of trucks on the road and increase safety with the addition of the sixth axle. The change would also reduce transportation costs, fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, and Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, sponsored the bill with 11 other state senators.

Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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