In a ruling filed April 7, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that said Morgantown does not have the authority to ban trucks from using state roads in city limits.
On Dec. 16, 2014, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit affirmed the arguments of Nuzum Trucking Co., Greer Industries and Preston Contractors Inc., which filed suit about three months after the Sept. 2 passage of two laws amending the city’s traffic code. In short, those amendments defined what constituted a “heavy truck” and banned their use in the city’s downtown business district.
The Supreme Court heard the city’s appeal March 1, at the WVU College of Law.
Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis delivered the court’s opinion.
In representing the city, Bob Bastress argued that a municipality has the authority to regulate traffic within its jurisdiction, including on connecting routes such as W.Va. 7, which passes through downtown and links city streets to U.S. 19 and 119.
In concluding her summary, Davis said, “In very plain language, W.Va. Code 17C-17-12 grants local authorities the power to prohibit the operation of trucks or to impose limitations of the weight thereof only ‘with respect to highways under their jurisdiction.’ As we noted above, the only authority granted to a municipality over connecting parts of the state road system is the regulation of traffic, and that authority does not include regulating the size or weight of vehicles traveling thereon.”
In concluding the court’s position, Davis wrote, “It is axiomatic that when a provision of a municipal ordinance is inconsistent or in conflict with a statute enacted by the Legislature, the statute prevails and the municipal ordinance is of no force and effect.”
Greer Industries Executive Vice President Bob Gwynne said the ruling was the result he expected.
“We are delighted with the result. It has been some time since this issue was brought up, but I think from the beginning we thought that the court would rule this way, and they did,” Gwynne said.
It was noted that this is the second attempt the city has made at such a ban. Gwynne said a ruling from the Supreme Court should close the book on the effort.
“I think this does bring finality to it,” he said.
Morgantown City Council initially voted 6-1 to pass the truck ban.
Council voted 4-2 on Feb. 3, 2015 to move forward with the appeal process after the Kanawha County Circuit Court ruling.
Had the Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favor, there still would have been work left to do in order to get the ban reinstated.
City Manager Jeff Mikorski explained as much before council voted to move forward with the appeal.
“What we’re dealing with is just the state pre-emption saying that we have authority over the state on those routes," Mikorski said in February 2015. "There were other issues within those lawsuits that have not been brought up yet that, even if we do win this at the Supreme Court, we’d drop back to the circuit court. I just don’t want everybody to think that would be the final part of it.”
Kawecki said the outcome is not one he wanted, but the situation did bring items to light.
“I am disappointed, certainly,” he said.
But the proposal did get groups looking at the issue. One is the Morgantown Metropolitan Organization, which is looking at improving Green Bag Road so it could become an alternative route for trucks.
Greer Industries is co-owned by John and David Raese. The two also co-own the West Virginia Newspaper Publishing Co., publisher of The Dominion Post and TheDPost.com.