Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said on Friday that he remains opposed to House Bill 189, which has been revised to allow commercial trucks with only specified types of cargo to exceed the current weight limit on roads throughout the state.
Daniell had sided with the Georgia Department of Transportation in opposing the original version of Georgia House Bill 189 that would have increased the weight limit of all commercial trucks on state and local roads from 80,000 to 90,000 pounds.
Daniell said the vehicle weight has a “big impact on our county roadways” and if the additional weight limit is allowed, the county will experience increased costs for roadway maintenance.
He said on Friday the revisions to the bill did not alter his opposition.
“We are communicating with our delegation on this bill as well as others,” Daniell said before the revised bill was passed.
Oconee County Rep. Marcus Wiedower sits on the House Transportation Committee, which voted 18-11 on Feb. 9 in favor of the bill–after a lengthy plea by representatives of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for defeat of the bill.
The Committee voted 12-7 in favor of the revised bill on Wednesday.
The Transportation Committee voted by a show of hands without a recording of votes both on Feb. 9 and on Wednesday (Feb. 22), and Wiedower is not visible in the video recording of the vote at either meeting.
Wiedower has not responded to questions about his vote on Feb. 9 or on the Committee reconsideration of the original vote on Wednesday.
House Bill 189
Steven Meeks, House District 178 Representative from Screven in Wayne County, northwest of Savannah, introduced House Bill 189 on Feb. 1.
|Screen Shot Vote For HB 189 2/9/2023|
In the version of the bill approved by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 9, the allowed weight limit for all commercial trucks on state and local roads would have increased from its current 80,000 pounds to 90,000 pounds.
The weight limit of 80,000 pounds on the Interstate Highway System is set by the federal government.
Meeks, a Republican, was joined by five co-sponsors, three Republicans and two Democrats.
One of the Democratic co-sponsors was Spencer Frye of House District 122, which falls wholly in Clarke County.
Meeks is chair of the House Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee, but he is not on the 34-member Transportation Committee.
Frye and Wiedower are members of the Transportation Committee.
Wiedower’s House District 121 includes all of Oconee County except Marswood Hall and Bogart precincts plus parts of Clarke County. Wiedower is a Republican.
Rules Committee Action
After the vote by the Transportation Committee late in the day on Feb. 9, the bill went to the Rules Committee. (The House was out of session on Feb. 10, 11, and 12, and the Transportation Committee vote was dated officially for Feb. 12, a Sunday.)
The Rules Committee sent House Bill 189 back to the Transportation Committee on Feb. 16, and the Transportation Committee took up the bill again on Feb 22.
The Feb. 22 meeting lasted less than 10 minutes, with most of the time devoted to Meeks’ saying that the increased weight limit would apply only to trucking for “agriculture and forestry,” though the actual bill has a longer list of allowed content.
In the video of the Feb. 9 meeting, only 22 of the Transportation Committee members are visible when the 18-11 vote was recorded, and neither Frye nor Wiedower can be seen.
In the Feb. 22 video, the whole Committee is visible when the 12-7 vote is recorded.
Wiedower is not visible in the room at the time of the vote.
I sent Wiedower a message to his official email on Feb. 12 and again on Feb. 22 asking him about his vote on Feb. 9 and about the Committee action on Feb. 22. I used three different sending email addresses on Feb. 22 to send the same message.
Wiedower did not respond to any of those email messages.
I sent several email messages to Daniell asking for his assessment of the impact of House Bill 189 on Oconee County.
|Screen Shot Vote For HB 189 2/22/2023|
In an email message on Feb. 21, Daniell said “It appears the number of posted bridges will double with the new weight limit.”
“Vehicle weight has a big impact on our county roadways,” Daniell continued. “So we do not support the additional weight limit for trucks. If the additional weight limit is granted, we anticipate additional maintenance cost.”
Daniell said he had received information from GDOT, which he forwarded to me.
Included was a map which listed 13 bridges in Oconee County that currently are posted, meaning they cannot handle the existing 80,000 pound weight limit.
If the weight limit were increased to 90,000, an additional eight bridges would have to be posted, according to the map.
In an email message on Feb. 24, after the revised bill was passed by the Transportation Committee, Daniell said “The bill would still require additional bridge postings and increase weights on county roads. We are not able to support the amended version.”
House Bill 189 as approved by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 22 says that a “vehicle which is hauling the products” listed in the bill “or which is hauling any other agricultural or farm product from a farm to the first point of marketing or processing shall be permitted a 12.5 percent variance” from the 80,000 pound weight limit, or 90,000 pounds.
|Screen Shot Meeks 2/22/2023|
The listed products are:
“forest products from the forest where cut to the first point of marketing or processing; live poultry or cotton from a farm to a processing plant; feed from a feed mill to a farm;
“granite, either block or sawed, or any other naturally occurring raw ore or mineral for further processing, from the quarry or stockpile area to a processing plant located in the same or an adjoining county and construction aggregates hauled to any point, unless otherwise prohibited;”
“solid waste or recovered materials from points of generation to a solid waste handling facility or other processing facility; concrete that is in a freshly mixed and unhardened state for delivery to a customer; or poultry waste from the point of origin to a farm.”
Feb. 9 Meeting: Pirkle
The Feb. 9 meeting of the Transportation Committee lasted just less than six hours and included a presentation by Russell McMurray, GDOT Commissioner, and Meg Pirkle, Chief Engineer at GDOT.
Transportation Committee Chair Rick Jasperse, Republican from House District 11, called these two “the shining star of the show,” and their nearly hour-long joint presentation came at the end of the session. Jasperse is from Jasper in Pickens County north of Atlanta.
The two were unambiguous and passionate in stating their opposition to House Bill 189.
“House Bill 189 proposes to increase truck weights by keeping the current legal weight limits but allowing a 12.5 percent variance on the maximum total vehicle weight and axle weights,” Pirkle told the Committee. “The language of calling it a variance is just semantics.”
“This bill will increase the legal gross vehicle weight to 90,000 pounds for all trucks and it will also increase the allowable axle weights,” she continued.
“An increase in gross vehicle weight limitations is of serious concern to GDOT,” she said. “The immediate impact is that GDOT will be compelled to immediately post restrictions on a significant number of bridges due to HB 189.”
“Because the 12.5 percent variance also applies to the legal axle loads, this will affect multiple configurations of trucks, not just tractor trailers,” Pirkle said.
“Additional posted bridges will create longer detours that are required and enforceable, leading to additional miles driven on the roadways,” she added.
“The longer term impacts are that House Bill 189 will accelerate deterioration of bridges and pavements,” Pirkle said. “Both higher gross vehicle weight and higher axle weights mean more severe damage to bridges and roadway pavements.”
|Screen Shot Pirkle And McMurry 2/9/2023|
“To maintain the state of good repair,” she said. “GDOT and local governments will have to redirect funding to significantly increase bridge and maintenance budgets. This will prevent other projects from advancing.”
“As someone responsible for our state's infrastructure, I am here to talk about the engineering and the physics without emotion,” she said, “but this bill deeply troubles me.”
“It is my duty as the GDOT chief engineer and as a professional engineer to show you today that these impact statements are real and this is why we are opposed to HB 189,” Pirkle said.
McMurry Adds Comments
“I've been asked many times in interviews: What keeps me up at night?” Commissioner McMurry said when Pirkle had finished.
“Since HB 189 has come out, I haven't been sleeping well, so if I'm a little not chipper and pleasant as I usually am,” he added. “You know the reason why. I don't have a good poker face either, so if I'm red you probably know why as well.”
“In a sense, ladies and gentlemen of this Committee, this is an unfunded mandate to GDOT and the cities and counties,” he said.
“We'll have to redirect our funding and spend billions--and let me say that again--billions more in maintenance, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, rather than advancing many of the critical projects you all need in your districts,” McMurry added.
“And listen, almost every one of you have come and asked to help your community with more money to resurface their roads and that's hard to do,” he added.
“I don't want to be the GDOT commissioner that sees the state go backwards and be like our other states in bad conditions,” McMurry said, “and for all the reasons Meg's laid out and the other people that's testified against HB 189, that's why we're strongly against it.”
“Based on the testimony on both sides today, it seems that we have a solid current law in place. The number one state to do business. Number one poultry industry. Number one forest products industry.”
“If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it,” he said in conclusion.
Meeks’ Case For Bill
In opening the discussion of House Bill 189, Committee Chair Jasperse called on the bill’s primary sponsor, Meeks, who said that “the trucking and logging sector is under enormous pressure today–not just one industry, but they all are.”
“For the broader economy in Georgia,” he said, “the ability to get products to market and to do that more efficiently--those pressures are even greater today. With the shortage of truck drivers, our input costs, our fuel costs, our insurance costs, are all factors that play into that.”
According to his biography, Meeks is Operations Manager for Burch Farms, a family business, and operates his own business, Nine Run Farms, with the same address as Burch Farms.
“It's important that we take a look from time to time at how we can adjust and move forward in the trucking industry,” Meeks said.
The current weight limit is 80,000 pounds on a five-axle truck with a five percent variance, or 84,000 pounds, Meeks said.
Under the executive order in place because of the COVID pandemic, the industry is allowed to operate at a 95,000 pound weight limit, Meeks added.
“So as you can see, moving from 80,000 with a four percent variance to 95,000 without a variance really is a ping pong,” he said.
“We've talked about it off and on for many years,” he said, “and we wanted to try to come back and find a common census among the industry on where we could go with truck weights.”
Georgia Municipal Association And ACCG
The first to speak against House Bill 189 were representatives of the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and the Association County Commissioners Georgia (ACCG).
|Screen Shot Causer 2/9/2023|
Demetris Causer, Government Relations Associate and Attorney at GMA, said the municipal association is opposed to House Bill 189 “for two primary reasons: municipal infrastructure and public safety.”
“We understand that heavier trucks will shorten the life span of city roads, and most cities do not equip their budgets to deal with excessive roadway repairs,” he said.
“Also navigating these narrow city streets not only poses risks to city roads but they pose risks to other drivers, pedestrians, truck drivers themselves, and historic municipal buildings.”
Causer was followed by Kathleen Bowen, Associate Director of Governmental Affairs, at ACCG.
She said local governments care about House Bill 189 because “we own and maintain over 80 percent of the roads in this state and we have over 8,000 bridge structures that we're responsible for.”
Causer said ACCG opposes HB 189 because “it shortens the life cycle for our roads and bridges. Counties are struggling as is to maintain our transportation network given inflation costs in our limited budget.”
I did not attend either of the Transportation Committee meetings, but I did watch them on the General Assembly video archive.
The first video below is of the Feb. 9 meeting.
Meeks began speaking in favor of the bill at 33:23 in the video.
Causer began speaking at 2:34:55 in the video, and was followed immediately by Bowen.
Pirkle began her comments at 4:29:12
McMurry began speaking at 4:53:25
The second video is of the brief Feb. 22 meeting.