May 29–MANKATO — The Blue Earth County Board is hesitant to allow heavier trucks on the county’s roads and bridges, even if the Legislature has made the option available for more farmers and businesses.
The Minnesota Legislature approved bills last year allowing counties to sign off on special permits to transport more ag and construction products. Trucks can’t exceed the maximum 80,000 pound legal weight normally, but under the new permits, six- or seven-axle trucks weighing up to 97,000 pounds could get clearance to drive on state and county roads.
While that may not mean much more wear and tear for the roads — the extra axles absorb the extra weight — Public Works Director Ryan Thilges is concerned more weight could spell an increased risk on some of the county’s older bridges.
“I do believe there is significant reason for concern with the impacts on our infrastructure,” he told the county commissioners during a work session Tuesday.
The permit allows for 12 to 24 percent more weight on the road than what it’s designed to use. And though some bridges have weight restrictions posted on signs, Thilges is concerned trucks will disregard safety warnings if given the chance.
County officials are worried that could lead to even more issues with the county’s 200 or so bridges.
“It’s just going to be a little bit more fatigue on the bridges,” Thilges said. “That’s going to be difficult to quantify.”
Counties are responsible for issuing those permits, and Blue Earth County hasn’t approved one yet. Thilges said the county has received two requests thus far.
The permits come with more rules for road safety. Each additional axle has to have its own brake and counties can give directions on preferred routes for trucks, though farmers and companies don’t necessarily have to follow those routes.
Yet commissioners shared Thilges’s concerns.
“If we give them the permit, they will cross (older bridges),” Vance Stuehrenberg said. “It doesn’t matter what that sign on that bridge is going to say, they’re going to cross that bridge.”
Other commissioners agreed. Will Purvis said he’d be concerned with potential safety issues, while Drew Campbell noted it would be hard to enforce weight limits on those permits.
Bruce Goodrich, president of R & E Enterprises of Mankato, said several trucking and ag companies already use heavier trucks without permits. Yet he encouraged the county to consider approving some of those permits in the future.
Goodrich, a former chair of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said he’s concerned by weight laws that make exceptions for some businesses but not others. In addition, he said the increased number of axles would mean trucks could stop faster.
More weight means fewer trips, which could benefit local trucking businesses.
“We’re going to haul 15 to 20 percent more product with one transportation,” Goodrich said.
County officials want to gather more information and study the potential impact permits could have on local road and bridge wear before issuing permits in the future.
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