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September 28, 2016 10:10 AM, EDT

Texas Trucking Community Unsure About Expected Weight-Limit Increase Proposal

Tim Patterson/Flickr
Texas’ trucking community is divided on a plan to raise truck weight limits in designated corridors near the state’s ports, particularly Houston.

A source told Transport Topics that when the Legislature reconvenes in January, state Sen. Robert Nichols, chairman of the Transportation Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would raise those limits from 80,000 pounds or 84,000 pounds with a special permit, to 88,000 pounds with a special permit and 97,000 pounds for trucks that have a sixth axle to spread the load.

“Our association is really split,” said John Esparza, CEO of the Texas Trucking Association, who expects a major discussion of the issue when his board meets Nov. 11-12 in Austin. “A couple of weeks ago, we were told to expect a bill in 30 to 60 days, so we should know exactly what we’re dealing with by then. I think it’s a great opportunity to have a discussion about what is safe and the data behind what’s been happening in other parts of the country about this issue.

"You have to be concerned about the unintended consequences of making a change. The biggest concern is truly safety. Houston has so much commercial traffic in residential areas because it’s not zoned, which creates a lot of tension between truckers and the rest of the motoring public. Does this exacerbate our problem?”

Through a spokeswoman, Nichols declined comment until the session nears. As of now, there’s no word on a companion bill to Nichols’ in the House. Rafael Anchia, a member of the Texas House, introduced a bill in 2015 that didn’t advance beyond the International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, on which he is the ranking member. Anchia couldn’t be reached for comment.

Several towns and cities near the Port of Houston have passed resolutions opposing heavy-weight corridors, citing safety concerns. Port officials don’t plan to take a position on raising the weight limits even as they hope that Houston will increase its business in the wake of the recently expanded Panama Canal.

“We’re neutral on this,” said Stan Swigart, director of marketing for the port, whose recent upgrade didn’t include dredging to 50 feet to handle the huge neopanamax ships that can now go through the canal. “We want to let the market decide what happens.”

Whether or not TTA’s board ultimately decides to support the effort to raise weight limits, Esparza is glad that the association will have input as the bill is shaped in the Legislature after being blindsided by a similar bill in 2007 that was introduced without his knowledge.

“We hosted a very inclusive summit back in January in Houston about this issue,” Esparza noted. “We invited all stakeholders including members of the Legislature and key staffers from agencies. We’ve been told on a number of occasions that was a catalyst for more discussion.

"We like the idea that we’re in the discussion about what this is going to look like instead of reacting as we did in 2007. There’s been an effort in every session since to raise rates. This is the most organized effort that we have seen, and it’s also bringing in a broad constituency of stakeholders, which is good.”