February 4, 2016 10:20 AM, EST

Growers Feel Strain of Truck Weight Limits

Joe Boddiford doesn't take chances when loading peanuts at his rural farm in Screven County.

State law allows him to haul up to 84,000 pounds at a time, due to a buffer that grants peanut producers and others room to surpass the state's 80,000-pound weight limit for trucks.

The fine for trucking any more than that keeps Boddiford cautious — even if he is just driving 10 miles down the road to sell the peanuts at his buying point, which he also operates. He has to travel much farther, about 150 miles, when he takes his corn to market.

But as Boddiford plays it safe, some trucks are allowed to haul as much as 100,000 pounds to and from the Port of Savannah, about 60 miles from his farm.

That disparity is the focus of a bill that started with modest ambitions last year but appears ready to expand amid simmering controversy over who carries how much over Georgia roads. "Those of us in agriculture find it a little offensive that a fellow hauling containers can get an exemption [for a 100,000-pound truck] that an agricultural person cannot get," said Boddiford, who serves on Georgia Peanut Commission's board.

Rep. Sam Watson ( R-Moultrie) originally proposed increasing the weight limit for trucks carrying unfinished wood products. His bill likely will expand to include other agricultural products, including Boddiford's peanuts and other commodities.

His measure seeks to set the weight limit at 84,000 pounds and gives those who qualify extra room to max out at 88,000 pounds.

The variance is granted because of the inherent difficulty of trying to estimate the weight of raw products while in the field. To get the exemption, a trucker's destination would have to be within 150 miles from where the load was harvested.

Watson said the change will help industries work more efficiently while reducing truck traffic on the roads. "If you have 100 trucks at 80,000, and you go to 75 at 84,000, I mean, what's the difference?" he said. City and county officials see a big difference.

Heavier loads will ravage roadways that aren't built to withstand the weight, they argue. A car, for comparison sake, weighs about 4,000 pounds. "It's a very important industry," Todd Edwards, associate legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said of the forestry industry — the only one specifically named in Watson's bill right now. "Our roads just don't have the ability to thank them or to handle it."

Watson said localities will get more money to help maintain roads and bridges because of the transportation bill that passed last year.

"There's going to be wear and tear, no matter what we do. Big trucks are tough on roads," he said. "The local government is going to get more funding to maintain the roads."

The bill is being mulled over by lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) is leading the review. Nimmer, a career forester and businessman, isn't convinced that the increased weight limit will adversely affect Georgia's roads. If anything, he said, the change will reduce truck traffic by about 10%.

Concerns about highway safety, however, have led him to question what the state can do to encourage trucks to install collision-avoidance technology and whether trucks should even be allowed to haul 100,000 pounds. Nimmer said it is unclear how much additional traffic would be added to the road if fewer trucks are hauling the maximum allowed load.

He said it's worth exploring so Georgia can achieve "parity in trucking." In addition to special permits granted to container trucks, there are varying rules for how far truckers can travel based on what goods are transported.