By KATHLEEN LOFTUS
Capital News Service
LANSING – For the past eight years, legislators have debated whether to exempt heating fuel trucks from road weight limitations.
Will the debate finally end?
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, wants to add heating fuel to the list of exemptions from seasonal weight restrictions.
Currently, the so-called “frost law” excuses trucks carrying “agricultural commodities, and, under certain circumstances, public utility vehicles on a highways, roads or streets” during March, April and May.
Seasonal weight restrictions require vehicles to reduce their maximum load by 25 percent on concrete pavement and 35 percent on all other roads.
No vehicle, regardless of the circumstances, can weigh more than 80,000 pounds. Different weight restrictions apply to all vehicles depending on axle size and number of axles.
Wayne Kohley, president of Excel Propane Co. in Fruitport, supports Casperson’s proposal and said people need to get heating fuel in a timely matter.
By reducing the allowable load, delivery trucks must make three to five additional trips, causing delays and wasting fuel.
“It’s an added burden to Michigan companies,” he said.
“Propane is an essential commodity to heat homes in the winter,” Kohley said.
Kohley also said the seasonal weight limits don’t keep the roads in better condition because heavy trucks must make extra trips with smaller loads.
Ed Noyola, deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan, and Jon Rice, managing director of the Kent County Road Commission, oppose the heating fuel exemption.
At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing, Noyola said consumers can call sooner and wait a little longer for heating fuel, so heavier trucks shouldn’t be allowed on local roads that are already crumbling.
Current law allows exceptions for emergencies, so Casperson’s proposal is unnecessary, Noyola said.
Rice said 70 percent of paved roads in Kent County were in good or fair condition in 2005, but that figure has dropped to 50 percent because of lack of funding and deterioration.
He said the two most serious factors are weather and excess weight.
Kent County has the state’s second-largest transportation system with 2,000 miles. Of them, only 300 miles are all-season roads and 400 miles are gravel.
Putting too much weight on roads during March through May when frost is approximately 12 inches below the surface causes damage, Rice said.
Casperson said he realizes moisture from frost creates problem and doesn’t provide a solid road base.
“Frost creates a carpet effect, like a sponge. The roads can be damaged until frost is out of the ground, but speed also plays a role,” Casperson said.
Casperson said not all road commissions have problems with the frost law. For example, counties like Dickinson in the Upper Peninsula have cooperated with weight restrictions.
He said small things like changing which highway entrance or exit a truck uses can help immensely.
The co-sponsors are Sens. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, Mike Nofs, R-Jackson and Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township
Casperson said he is considering final changes in the bill before a committee vote.
Casperson said he believes there’s a better chance of passage this year than in the past.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.