Commission's Experiment Plans Lead to Federal Controversy

Article excerpt

A small federal controversy has erupted because an Oklahoma commission wanted to conduct trucking productivity and roadway strength experiments. The controversy could come down to who interprets state laws.

In May the Oklahoma Trucking Industry Self-funded Research and Development (TISRAD) Committee, made up of representatives from two branches of government and private industry, decided to test over-loaded trucks on state highways starting July 1. The test would have offered significant data regarding road surfaces required to handle this type of equipment and what kind of productivity gains could be expected.

Under the test, trucks with multiple trailers, weighing in excess of 108,000 pounds, would have been issued special permits to drive along designated routes in Oklahoma.

However, a local official of the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation heard of the project and ordered it stopped.

Regulations prohibit a truck weighing more than 90,000 pounds from using federal-aid highways, according to a letter from Bruce Lind to Oklahoma Transporation Director Neal McCaleb.

Now, it appears as if a summit conference between federal and state officials is all that will solve the problem created by that letter in late July.

Members of the TISRAD committee unanimously agreed that McCaleb should invite federal highway officials to Oklahoma to discuss the problem.

At issue is contention that when the interstate highway system was authorized in 1956, federal regulations prohibited trucks of more than 90,000 pounds gross vehicle weight without a special permit. However, a grandfather clause in the requirements said that if state regulations allowed trucks of a heavier weight, that weight will still be allowed on federal-aid highways.

"The question is, who interprets the state laws," McCaleb told the TISRAD Committee. "Our grandfathered state law allows us to issue permits for these (over-loaded) trucks in four instances.

"The one that we are primarily concerned with is the one saying that the permit be for a single load which cannot be divided. Since what we wanted to test would require more than one trailer, it would appear that this would not constitute a single load."

Oklahoma's trucking industry contends that Lind is mistaken and that such an experiment would be legal as well as beneficial.

"Apparently the Oklahoma City (Federal Highway Administration) office is not familiar with this kind of question since they referred the matter to their Washington (D.C.) office," wrote Vince Robison, president of the Associated Motor Carriers of Oklahoma, to Lt. Gov. Robert S. Kerr III, TISRAD co-chair. "It is also clear that whoever responded in behalf of FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) from their Washington office is not familiar with the law as it relates to the demonstration project and special permits."

The TISRAD project is similar to a triple-trailer project approved in South Dakota, Robison said, which should make it legal in Oklahoma. …