East Tennessee police want to put brakes on big trucks legislation


wbir.com-Lenoir City is a crossroads, of sorts, a city touched or crossed by two major interstates and two major state highways.

Police Chief Don White said, every day, around 50,000 people travel through his city, sometimes with dangerous consequences.

"Commercial vehicles, they're large, they're heavy, and when they crash, it's a big crash, big trucks create big crashes," Chief White said. "And normally when a tractor-trailer is involved with a passenger vehicle, it's not a good outcome, and so, by increasing the weight is just increasing the risk to the public that's driving on our roads."

The chief is joining a national effort, led by the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, to put a stop to legislation that could allow for bigger trucks.

Portions of the Transportation Reauthorization Bill, HR 763 and HR 801, could allow the maximum weight for trucks to increase from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 or 99,000 pounds, respectively.

CABT also says trucking industry lobbyists are urging Congress to overturn restrictions that ban trucks with triple trailers.

"Commercial vehicles, they serve a good purpose, but increasing the weight to that amount, I just can't see how it would be a positive to ensure the safety of our public," Chief White said.

The chief also is concerned about the damage to the roads that could be caused by heavier trucks. 

But Steve Borden, Region 1 Transportation Director for the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation, says a number of factors play in to how a heavy truck affects a roadway.

Interstates, for instance, are constructed differently than state highways and county roads. A heavily traveled roadway might have several more inches of layered gravel and asphalt, creating a more durable surface.

Right now, 18,000 pounds of weight is allowed, per axle, on a truck. He said, if the weight of a vehicle is increased by 12 percent, there is a 60 percent effect on the longevity of the roadway.

"If you just raise the weight limit and there's not a change in the axle configuration, that has a pretty big impact, but if you're adding axles with that weight, it's pretty minor as far as the impact to the roadway," he said.

Still, Chief White is convinced the legislation would be bad for his community. He's already written letters to some local lawmakers, including Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with Congressman Jimmy Duncan.

Next week, he plans on traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators in person as part of a trip funded by CABT.